Coping - scientificulties

How do you know you have tinnitus?

When you can hear sounds, or noises, no one else in the same place or situation can - you might have tinnitus (T). Don't assume you have T just because what you read sounds like it. First thing you do is check around. Do you hear these sounds only at work, but not somewhere else? Maybe something, or someone, produces these sounds. TV or computer monitors might be merrily squealing away, or steam rushing through heating pipes, or whatever. Maybe your hearing happens to better than others' and they just don't hear it. Does the sound disappear when you cover your ears?

Take nothing for granted, maybe it's as simple as that. Same thing at home, or wherever. Maybe you're picking up on your neighbour's electronic bug repeller. Again, cover your ears, or walk around the block. Any change? If not, check it out with a professional. These good folks can tell you for sure by ruling out other medical possibilities. If it turns out you do have it, you probably wonder how common T is and what you might be up against.

Incidence - "how many got it"

From several sources, it seems estimates range from about one out of seven to one out of ten people have tinnitus. Most folks have no problem with it, but dealing with it is a problem for about one out of ten of the people that do experience T. Rounded off to the cautious side, that works out to about one out of every one hundred people might have a hard time with T.

Possible problems, in no particular order:

  • can't sleep
  • loud noises bother you
  • hard to concentrate
  • depressed
  • stress
  • headaches
  • hearing loss
  • easily fatigued
  • the world sucks
  • loss of appetite

If any of these apply to you, make sure you discuss them with your doctor.

Types of noises

Here's the top ten of all-time "favourites":

  • ringing
  • hissing
  • high-pitched frequencies
  • buzzing
  • insects
  • whistle
  • humming
  • ocean waves
  • banging
  • clicking

One case

This may not be what happens to everyone, but I'm willing to bet it's not at all unique. Here's is the way things unfolded for me - perhaps you recognize your self:

  • discover I have it
  • start worrying
  • noises drive me bonkers
  • start hoping for a quick cure
  • "gotta live with it" disappointment
  • depression
  • discover tinnitus (AST) on the internet
  • "I'm not alone"
  • figure out how's and why's
  • anxiety disappears
  • back on top of the world

Now what?

Loud sounds started bothering me, and please be sure you really understand this: loud noises started bothering ME - it does not mean automatically that they'll start bothering YOU. I came to a point where I felt I should stop doing one the things in life I like most: playing music. Some might agree and applaud - I play banjo. I decided I would not give up, could not give up. I figured giving up is giving in. Instead, I decided to look at my situation and mostly, at myself. You see, I work at home. A very quiet home, with very quiet sounds. But, sound belongs to our world. Denying sound is denying the world. I went outside more, went out more and started doing more stuff in the real world. Granted, a bit at the time. I made peace with myself. Having peace with yourself in a way is like sleep: you can't always make it happen, but you sure can allow it to happen. Support and understanding from those around you is a big help. Take Santa: for my occasional bad-ear days he got me a new toy: an electric guitar, volume control and all. It's nowheres near a banjo - but music, the world and I are getting along just fine again.

Last year I posted some stuff on coping, they pretty well summed up what was happening to me at the time. I tried different things - some worked, others didn't. Keep in mind, this is only about me - it may be different for anyone else. One of the things that did NOT work for me was reading about other peoples' miseries and how shitty a turn their lives took in the face of T. On the other hand, I should be honest and tell you that some of the testimonials on AST made me realize, in a twisted and perverse sort of way, that at least I was "better off" than them other poor souls.

An important thing to know is that I've had T as long as I can remember. I've been whistling an beeping away for a long many years. It never used to bother me before, so why should it now? I can't imagine what it must be like to wake up one fine day to discover you "got it." Like I said, mine T has been with me for a long time, as long as I can remember. I don't really know what it is like not to have it, I can only imagine real silence. I don't know what to tell you. I don't know any words that can make you feel more comfortable. I can only tell you you are not alone. I can only tell you I know what it feels like having the noises. But then again, I don't have to, do I... Hopefully you're only reading this as research for a school project or something. Hopefully you're not reading this trying to pick up on clues here that might help you.

Speaking about hoping, I do a lot of that. Some day I'll pick up the newspaper and there it is, a big headline saying someone's done it - some one's come up with a cure. Until then, I keep hoping. Not too much, I don't want to be continuously disappointed. More along the lines "wouldn't it be nice if..."

What does work

One thing that does work for me is distraction. Keep doing things that take up enough of your thoughts so you can't spend that time thinking about T. The mind is a powerful thing, but it's not very efficient. It won't let you do too many things successfully at the same time, kinda like a computer with a crummy operating system. Think multi-tasking: you can download a file in the background while that stupid solitaire game keeps beating up on you for hours on end. The file is being transferred all right, but you don't see it happen - that's the idea about distraction. Your tinnitus sounds are still there, but you try to busy your brain with other things so it's all tied up and it won't have the opportunity to make you notice the noises.


Speaking about noises, and how loud are they anyway? I snooped around the other day with another new toy: a sound pressure meter, it measures the noises in Decibels. Here are the results for some of the desirable, and some undesirable, sounds of every day life:

  • whisper in the ear: 85 dB
  • turning newspaper pages: 67 dB
  • elegant lady blowing nose: 69 dB
  • all-out snotcycle eliminator: 85 dB
  • dinner table conversation: 69 dB
  • three beer leak: 82 dB
  • chili dog creak - hey, wait a minute...
  • toilet flush: 72 dB
  • shower: 83 dB
  • electric shaver: 80-92 dB (depending how near the ear she makes you get)
  • brushing teeth: 64 dB
  • playing banjo: 97 dB (banjo-to-ear distance)
  • coffee maker: 52 dB
  • legion hall concert: 90-97 dB
  • applause at concert: 73 dB
  • driving in car: 73 dB
  • car, window open @ highway speed: 79 dB
  • dishwasher: 51 dB
  • dentist drill: 86 dB @ 1" from sound meter

The difference between a sound and a noise? A noise is just an unwanted, or undesirable, sound - a lot like weeds. When you're trying your darndest to grow a patch of beautiful dandelions and can't keep them orchids down, you got weeds. When you're listening to Mozart and I can't keep my banjo down, you got noise. In all seriousness, sound to one, is noise to another. In the this list you can see an electric razor is louder than a dentist drill. Shaving, not my favorite activity, don't bother me. But drilling... How about when your spouse whispers "honey" in your ear, I doubt very many will think of that as noise, no matter what the sound level meter claims. For the benefit of Mr. L., the dentist drill reading is minus bone conducted  vibrations not does it include earth quake activity and/or extra-terrestrial resonances.

Sound has these qualities, or properties:

  • frequency - high or low enough to bug you?
  • duration - last longer than your comfort time zone?
  • direction, or focus - coming straight at you or can it dissipate into the surroundings?
  • intensity - louder than your comfort zone?
  • association - is it, or does it remind you of, something pleasant
  • control - can you control the volume, or switch it on/off

It depends on how you interpret some, or all of these items, whether the sounds remains a sound or becomes a noise. I happen to like car racing. Racing engines are LOUD. Of course, I do wear earplugs but they are still loud. I associate the sounds with pleasure. The intensity is there, but the focus is not. The sound can escape in all directions out in the open air around the race track and as far as control is concerned, I can leave the track any time I want. The sound simply is beautiful. How about the shower? Pretty darn loud actually according to the sound meter, especially when you're tall and the sprayer is right close to your ears. Maybe the added stimulus and sensation on your skin has a lot to do with it, but for most people tinnitus decreases while in the shower (or while swimming for that matter). Maybe the trick is to try and associate noises with pleasurable memories so they can become sounds once again. Having control over the sound gives you an important edge in determining whether it's a sound or a noise. It might be too loud, to focused or whatever. Knowing you can turn it down or switch it off removes the threat and you might be back in your comfort zone, even if it is louder than you like.

Since we're still talking about noise, let me vent one of my pet peeves. I was looking around to buy a dishwasher a couple of months ago. One of the specifications I was looking for was the noise level rating. Only import (into North America) models listed them. The sales people in the stores did not know and the brochures did not list it either, so I contacted two of North America's leading manufacturers to try and find out. The company reps told me they did not have the numbers and could not look them up. According to them, their models were so quiet you didn't need the numbers. Consumers Report seems to think we don't need to know either in their noise ratings on fridges. "Acceptable" just don't cut it folks. Sorry, not good enough for this customer. Not to brag on how good it is elsewhere, but European stuff usually does include these numbers and manufacturers even brag about them. If you are looking at appliances, power tools etc. in North America, keep asking. Maybe someday the corporate hearing organ, the bottom line, might get switched on.

No-frill, low budget distractions

Today's world (1998) is pretty rough on budgets and you might not have a chance to start a brand new hobby or activity. What you're looking for is a change of pace, a different outlook, a new horizon or whatever. Anything that makes your mind pay attention. The more attention on other things, the less time your brain can make you notice T.

Whatever you're doing, do more of it!

except donuts... Do things that occupy your mind or body, or both. If you like crossword puzzles, try doing the harder ones. Like painting - try watercolours, bake muffins? - make them from scratch. Hug your spouse

Become more involved

join a club, volunteer, start a neighbourhood homebrew league, visit an old friend, read a book to your kids, sing a song to your spouse, help a boy scout cross the road, talk to the smiley couple that rings your doorbell.

Become curious

read the newspaper? - circle the words you don't know and look them up in the dictionary. How do you conjugate Arkansas any way - yahlcansaw? yoozkinsee? Stubbed your toe? - what kinda wood is that table made of and how many screws hold it together? How does a coffee maker work? What's the diff between a salt water and fresh water fish?

Learn something new

take a night course, any course at a local school (their cheap or often free), learn how to repair a toaster. Go to a wall papering seminar at the Home Depot, learn Mandarin on your shortwave (5.950 Mhz., 10 EST), try programming a computer instead of just using it, find out about that weird plant your friend has

Do something different

put your pants on left leg first? - use your right leg. Read the comics first? - go for the classified page. Watch the six o'clock news? - take in the 10:00 offering. Stop wearing your watch, you'll be surprised how little else but stress they provide

Any of these things can distract you enormously. Once distracted, check out some books on relaxation techniques - you'll be more receptive to the message they are trying to get across. The less stress and anxiety you have to deal with, the easier it is to deal with anything in life - including tinnitus.

What's next?

Getting rid of the beeping, that's all. Should that happen, that'll make me plenty happy. But if it don't, it don't worry me a bunch. One of the biggest things for me was the knowledge of not being alone. Discovering others, talking to them and comparing notes sure helped enormously.

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Copyright 2001 Bart Veerman