1. Hi, 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?
My tinnitus symptoms began on March 26, 2018 at the age of 38. We had just moved into a new house and I noticed a low-frequency hum or buzzing sound that I thought was coming from somewhere in the house. It turned out to be the onset of tinnitus which has since expressed itself as a low-frequency hum or buzzing sensation in my left ear. There is also a very high-pitched hiss that I hear more in my right ear. It could be the case that the high-pitched hiss is also present in my left ear, but I struggle to notice it over the low-frequency buzz. In silence, sometimes one of the sounds is more dominant than the other, but both are constant. Ambient noises that match the frequency cancel out the tinnitus. For example, we have a ceiling fan in the bedroom that makes a hum that is similar to what I hear in my left ear. When it is on, I barely hear the low-frequency buzz in my left ear, but the high-pitched hiss then becomes much more noticeable. Luckily, they are usually both cancelled out or otherwise masked by day-to-day ambient noise. I would say that I can go 85-90% of my day without tinnitus pressing into my awareness.
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?
There are so many things that could have contributed to the condition throughout the years that it is hard to identify a particular cause. However, I can say that the onset coincided with an abrupt discontinuation of a very low dosage and short-term use (less than a month) of a new antidepressant that I had begun taking called Velnafaxine (generic for Effexor). I have a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and our move had put me even more on edge than usual, so my doctor recommended it. However, it was making me very tired and I had to continue packing for the move, so I stopped taking it. I didn’t realize that it is not recommended to stop antidepressants so abruptly. Another possible cause could be loud noise exposure. Since I was a teenager, I always liked to listen to music at loud volumes; in the car, on the treadmill, and for at least 7 years through headphones with the volume turned all the way up so I could hear it over the lawnmower. Three years prior to the onset of tinnitus, I had also begun taking piano lessons and practiced with headphones, probably with the volume up louder than it should have been. Coincidentally, the digital piano I used had stereo separation with notes below Middle C panned to the left and the notes above panned to the right. I will always wonder if this explains the low-frequency tinnitus in my left ear and the high-frequency in the right. I had also been to a handful of rock/metal concerts throughout the years and usually went home with the typical ringing in my ears that disappeared by morning. To my recollection, though, that ringing sounded different than what I experience now. Regardless, my anxiety, brief antidepressant usage, and continuous exposure to loud music could have all played a role in my developing tinnitus.
3. How did it affect your day-to-day life when it started? What impact has it had on you in the past?
Our move turned out to be a very emotional and negative experience for me that I ended up regretting. Adding tinnitus to the ordeal certainly did not help. Consequently, I went through a pretty bad depression for about 9 months after the move. I’ll never be sure how much of it was because of moving and how much of it was because of the tinnitus. Regardless, I am feeling much better about both of those situations these days. Of course I wish that the tinnitus symptoms would go away, but I realize that it could certainly be worse and I feel stronger for having had the experience.
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 spent my first summer with tinnitus learning all about it and chasing cures. I watched You Tube videos, read articles, and made appointments with health professionals. My GP did not think an antidepressant, especially at such a low dose and short amount of time would cause tinnitus that would persist after discontinuing the medication, but he recommended that I have an audiogram and an MRI to rule out any of the rare, serious issues associated with tinnitus. My audiogram confirmed mild hearing loss in my left ear, but only at very high frequencies. My hearing is still considered normal. My MRI did not reveal any concerns. I also met with an audiologist who specializes in tinnitus. Her approach was more about moving on and learning to manage the symptoms instead of trying to cure them. That was not what I wanted to hear at the time, but it has turned out to be the best advice and closest thing to a cure.
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 any of them?
During that first summer, I also tried craniosachral therapy and neurofeedback. They did not have any noticeable effects on my symptoms.
6. Have you seeked counseling or therapy? In particular, have you looked into sound therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy, or cognitive behavioural therapy? Did any of them help?
The practitioner that performed craniosachral therapy shared an office with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker that provided counseling services. I met with her on a weekly basis for almost a year since the onset. One of her methods was tapping. I tried it, but remain skeptical of its effectiveness. She also taught me mindfulness, which I do believe is a good practice in general. The most beneficial part of our sessions, though, was just having someone to talk to while I was going through my depression after moving. We talked a lot about being happy where you are instead of mourning the past or yearning for the future. We also talked about focusing on the positive: life is your garden and you have to water the flowers instead of the weeds.
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?
Moving out of our old house and bringing a close to the period of time that we lived there triggered a grieving process in me. Whether or not the tinnitus was a result of that emotional turmoil, a permanent side effect of using the antidepressant, or something that was always going to happen no matter what and just happened to coincide with everything else I was going through, I will never know. Regardless, as I progressed through my grieving process over moving and my depression started to fade, my outlook on having tinnitus also began to improve. I took the tools of mindfulness and positive thinking that I learned from my social worker and began applying them to many aspects of my life. As a result, I think I am a stronger and more balanced person than I was before I began experiencing the symptoms of tinnitus.
8. These days, What do you do to manage your tinnitus? What do you do when it gets particularly bad?
When my symptoms get bad, I know I need to slow down and take some time for self care. However, the idea that an antidepressant could have been one of the contributing factors to the onset of my tinnitus makes me hesitant to use medication to manage any symptoms. These days I rely on mindfulness, relaxation, and the things that make me happy to cope with anxiety and tinnitus. That can take the form of a bath with epsom salts, a walk outside, light exercise on the treadmill, going for a bike ride, playing video games, or getting back to practicing piano (at a much lower volume, of course). Practicing body scans as a part of mindfulness usually calls my attention to areas that I am tensing due to stress. Those are most commonly my jaw and facial muscles. Once I take the time to unwind and take care of myself, the tinnitus symptoms usually improve.
9. Do you believe there’s a single “silver bullet” cure for tinnitus? Do you believe there will ever be one?
When my tinnitus symptoms first began, I would have given anything for them to go away. Of course, I would still like for that to happen, but I can honestly say that if they never do go away, I know that I will be fine. I consider them to be a scar that resulted from my emotional growth. The scar has made me stronger and better. It is also a reminder to turn down the volume and to check in on my own well being frequently. I understand tinnitus sounds/sensations to be hyperactive neurons in the brain that are trying to account for signals from dead nerve cells that they are no longer receiving. I am not a doctor, so I do not know if that hyperactivity in the brain can be stopped, but tinnitus symptoms that are intermittent do seem to indicate the possibility. Regardless of whether or not medical science will be able to provide us with a cure, I am glad that my happiness and ability to enjoy life are no longer dependent on finding one. I hope that everyone else that suffers from tinnitus symptoms is able to reach that point as well.