1. Hi Mark, tell us a bit about your condition. How long have you had tinnitus? What symptoms have you been getting? Is the sound you hear there all the time, or is it intermittent?
I first started experiencing the symptoms of tinnitus in Spring 2010. The sound I hear is a high-pitched ringing coupled with a hiss. The sound itself is constant, but the pitch and volume vary significantly. It is more prominent in the left side.
2. How did you actually develop tinnitus in the first place? Has anything in particular triggered it? Can you tell (or guess) what the underlying cause is?
I am 29 years old and have played in rock bands since junior high, so it is no surprise that I have noise-induced tinnitus. I first started experiencing symptoms about an hour after a gig on the night before Easter in 2010. The entire night we were louder than usual, but if I had to pinpoint an exact moment that “caused” it, that would be was a distortion-heavy and obscenely-loud cover of Muse’s “Starlight.” I remember my ears feeling strange immediately after we stopped playing.
3. How did it use to affect your day-to-day life when it started? What impact has it had on you in the past?
The immediate impact was just anxiety. I had, before that moment, some temporary ringing in the ears after concerts. But I remember waking up on my girlfriend’s couch in the middle of the night about a week after the onset and nearly having a panic attack because the ringing seemed so loud and incessant. There were times I had sleepless nights or difficulty concentrating in quiet places. However, over time, I naturally “habituated” and the sound consequently seemed to become much quieter. For two years, it was not a big deal.
In May 2012, however, the volume seemed to spike. I started to monitor it, believing I may have done more damage. Eventually, my monitoring turned to obsession and all of a sudden what was an imperceptible noise for 98% of the day became intrusive 100% of the time. I had trouble studying for the bar exam. I had trouble sleeping. I feared quiet rooms. I could hear it over the television. I could hear it in social situations. I could hear it all the time. I was a wreck for several months, depressed and anxious.
4. Have you had somebody to diagnose it? Have you been to see a GP, audiologist, or any traditional health care providers about it? What treatment did they offer?
I initially saw my general practitioner, who told me it would just go away. After the spike in 2012, I went to see one of the top audiologists in the Chicagoland area and spent a significant amount of money on an exam that basically told me what I already knew: my hearing was fine, I had tinnitus, and treatment would be a long, expensive process designed to aid in habituation. I temporarily used Xanax, but it only helped with the anxiety.
5. Have you tried any alternative treatments, dietary/lifestyle changes, or treatments not offered by traditional health care providers? Have you had any success with of them?
I tried a few OTC products offered in your average drug store that amounted to nothing more than snake-oil. I tried completely ridding myself of caffeine and alcohol. I tried exercising, and then, not exercising. I tried meditation. I used maskers and white noise generators. I used a pitch generator for residual inhibition. Nothing worked. In fact, I found that by willfully altering my life around the condition, I only gave more attention to the tinnitus and further hindered the process of habituation. Tinnitus should not require you to deprive yourself of some activity or otherwise require you to alter your lifestyle.
6. Have you seeked counseling or therapy? In particular, have you looked into sound therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy? Did any of them help?
I looked into them, but felt that all they offered was just expensive hand-holding for a process that would happen naturally if I just took my mind out of the way.
7. How did you eventually start to cope with it? Do you manage it better now than when it first started? What impact does tinnitus have on you today?
Well, taking and passing the bar exam eliminated a great deal of external stress that was making it difficult for me to relax. Once that was out of the way, I could focus on getting my head straight. All of the literature I read boiled down to this: if you can get your brain to treat the sound as “unimportant,” your brain will no longer give it any attention and you will, consequently, no longer perceive it. In other words, I just had to stop caring about the tinnitus. It may seem obvious, but obsessing over a sound is not the way to go if your ultimate goal is to train your brain to ignore the sound.
At first it was difficult to stop obsessing. But after a while, I proceeded to live life as if I did not even have tinnitus anymore. I played basketball. I drank coffee again. I went out with friends. I traveled. I did things that made me happy and when I was happy, I no longer cared about having tinnitus. In the beginning, when I was focused on something else, I could go seconds without hearing it. With time, those seconds turned to minutes, the minutes turned to hours, hours turned to days, and days to weeks, and so on.
Today, my tinnitus is inconsequential to daily life. I go weeks without even noticing it. Occasionally I may hear it in a quiet room or with my ear on a pillow, but the sound just doesn’t register. I don’t have any reaction to it. If there was a cure that came out tomorrow, I would probably not even feel inclined to get it.
8. These days, What do you do to manage your tinnitus? What do you do when it gets particularly bad?
Nothing. I simply use ear plugs in loud places (concerts, crowded bars, etc.). In fact, “managing” your tinnitus is exactly what you do NOT want to do. If it gets “bad” I just ignore it, knowing it will go back to normal soon enough.
9. Do you believe there's a single “silver bullet” cure for tinnitus? Do you believe there will ever be one?
Maybe, maybe not. While research should certainly continue to look for one, anyone afflicted with the condition should stop wasting their time holding out hope. If you are still secretly waiting for a cure, you have yet to take the first step in habituation: not caring about your tinnitus. The fact is, you do not need a “silver bullet” because you can live the same healthy, happy life with tinnitus.
10. Anything else you’d like to tell us that we might have left out?
Just some general advice:
See a doctor. Gather as much information as you need to learn about the affliction. Seek support. Protect your ears. But eventually, you just have to move on and live life again. Do not keep looking for cures. Do not spend all day on internet forums listening to horror stories. Do not obsess over what will make it worse or better. The best “cure” for tinnitus is living a happy life.
Thank You Mark Vazquez