Coping with tinnitus can bring many challenges. For example, my relationship with sound and music suddenly changed when I started experiencing tinnitus all the time.
Tinnitus is also described as ringing in the ears. It is an audiological and neurological condition that affects nearly 15 percent of people in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Tinnitus is a sign of damage to the ear. It also signals a disruption in how sound is transmitted and processed in the brain.
These annoying sounds can get in the way of every day life. This makes it difficult to hear over the apparent background noise.
Read more: What is tinnitus?
In May 2020, during the first COVID-19 lockdown, I was using my ears constantly. I was producing music, doing sound design, working with video, and DJing. The goal was to keep myself busy and productive. I had previously experienced episodes of tinnitus after a show or gig. But this time was completely different. I was also experiencing bouts of vertigo.
The attacks occurred often throughout the day. After about two weeks, I went to bed. There it was, this constant faint white noise. I panicked. My anxiety went through the roof, and I couldn’t sleep. I went to a few audiologists and ENTs. After a hearing test, they found there was a small drop in the mid-high frequencies. This wasn’t enough for me to notice. Yet it was good enough for my brain to create this phantom noise. They told me there was nothing they could do. I had to do some research for myself.
Read more: How to manage your tinnitus more effectively
Having tinnitus has greatly affected my life in general. I’ve had to adjust to this new soundscape, limit my exposure to loud noise, and look after my ears to prevent further damage. My tinnitus journey has gone through up and downs. At the beginning, I became afraid of further damage, so I isolated myself from loud sounds and stopped using headphones and DJing. This made me develop phonophobia and increased the hyperacusis I already had. It also impacted my mental health, as music has been always part of me.
“Having tinnitus has greatly affected my life in general.”
With time, and with COVID restrictions slowly easing, I gradually re-exposed myself to environmental sounds and managed to go back to DJing – with some adjustments. Having gone through this experience has made me appreciate my hearing much more. Hearing conditions are a difficult thing to live with, specially for an audiophile, but I think I am on the pathway to habituation.
Some of the most difficult things to accept is, that in my case, tinnitus was self-inflicted through listening to loud music without ear protection. Therefore, the feeling of self-blame and/or even anger at at myself as well as society was a daily struggle as we should know better about hearing protection. Part of coping with tinnitus made me want to get involved in awareness and advocacy for people with hearing conditions and hearing loss. I started volunteering in the media department at Soundfair and TinnitusAustralia, helping with their advocacy. Another thing I did was help create the Down and Loud initiative as a way to raise awareness about hearing protection in the music industry.
I also joined the Hearing Like Me community as a video editor/YouTube manager, where I have found a great online community. Here is a place where I can have a great impact on people’s lives by creating meaningful content and helping people face the different challenges that come with living with hearing loss or coping with tinnitus.
Read more: Apply to be a Phonak hEARo
Tinnitus Sound Therapy
While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are treatment options.
According to Phonak, “The best way to overcome tinnitus is to shrink the ratio between the sounds you don’t want to hear and the sounds you do want to hear.”
One way this is done by sound therapy, which provides sounds tailored for tinnitus and teaches your brain to reclassify what it hears. This is a widely used treatment that has different levels. Sound masking devices, hearing aids, devices, and apps can all be used for the same purpose. An example of a hearing aid that could help with tinnitus is the Phonak Lyric, which is worn 24 hours a day. Phonak says it reduces tinnitus annoyance faster and provides greater relief than daily hearing aids.