Oh, to have a quiet moment.
Welcome to the world of tinnitus. It’s a condition characterized by a perceived ringing, buzzing or whistling sound in the ears.
Lipreading Mom’s 6-year-old daughter recently shared she can’t hear the teacher at school well because of the sounds inside her ears. Her school audiologist admits there isn’t an objective way to test for tinnitus. The best way to test at all, the audiologist claimed, is to describe the noise to a qualified audiology professional or to someone who lives with the condition.
Well, Lipreading Mom has become an expert, having personally dealt with tinnitus for 10 years. Some days, the inside of my ears plays a quiet chorus of crickets chirping their tinnitus tune. Then there are moments when my ear concert performs much louder, with ringing hand bells joining in with the crickets. When I make the mistake of attending a rock concert with my husband, sans ear plugs, the tinnitus chorus competes with the sound of squealing guitars and screeching lyrics. And the concert screeches on for days inside my ears. Thank God I’ve only made that mistake once.
This is the first in a series of articles about tinnitus, the sometimes maddening condition that affects up to 50 million people in the U.S and millions worldwide. And that’s the number of sufferers owning up to the condition. Without a proper diagnosis, someone may live with ear noise without the ability to explain why.
The American Tinnitus Association offers plenty of tips for managing perceived sounds in the ears on its Web site. Among the advice:
- Meet with an ears, nose and throat doctor (ENT) or audiologist to discuss your tinnitus.
Lipreading Mom’s advice: Come armed with your “MES” list: medication, stress, and environment. Document all the medication you currently or previously took, any stress triggers in your life, or environmental stimuli that may have triggered your tinnitus. Environment includes work and family setting, exposure to loud noises, and diet. Two of the biggest diet culprits I’ve found for worsening tinnitus are caffeine (that twice-daily cup of java) or salt since they both contribute to a rise in blood pressure, which aggravates my already ringing ears.
- Don’t panic. Tinnitus is rarely a sign of something life-threatening or serious. Sure, it seems alarming to be serenaded every moment of the day by constant ear noise. That’s when coping mechanisms can help.
One of Lipreading Mom’s favorite tips for coping with tinnitus: Create your own white noise. Turn a fan on low while trying to fall asleep, or listen to a CD of ocean waves while commuting to and from work. Remember to keep the volume low so that the white noise is calming, not ear piercing and potentially damaging to hearing.
I’ll discuss more about how to cope with tinnitus later. In the meantime, visit an ENT or audiologist if you haven’t done so already. Be sure to bring that important MES list with you: medication, stress, and environment.
Time to get busy on that list, tinnitus sufferers!