For weeks, there had been a constant, high-pitched ringing in my ears. I remember the day it started, I was supposed to go to a movie with the girls from work.
Sitting in front of the television before I left, I couldn’t concentrate on the show I was watching. I turned up the television and tried to pay attention.
I couldn’t figure out what was going on. I thought I had a headache, so I finally took some medicine. I went to the movies and hoped it would go away.
After the movie the ringing dulled a little. My friend mentioned that her dad had the same problem with his ears, tinnitus, but he was much older than I was (I was 25 at the time). I went home and looked up the symptoms and cause of tinnitus.
I could connect some of the symptoms to my life: allergies, stress, but nothing that seemed significant. I made an appointment with an ear doctor, whom I researched extensively to make sure I was getting the best diagnosis I could.
The ringing was all i could concentrate on. I just wanted it to stop, I just wanted quiet. Silence was not an option now. After three weeks of waiting, I went to my appointment. By this time, I had a few assumptions about what was going on:
1. My ears were fine. I had an ear infection that was causing the ringing.
2. There was blockage within my ears that needed to be removed.
3. I had some sort of problem that could be fixed with medicine.
What happened next was nothing I had expected. They first administered a standard hearing test. After this, I was asked a series of questions related to the cause of my problem, had I been exposed to any loud noises over a longer period of time? No. Do I have any other symptoms that are accompanying the ringing? No. (experience has now shown me, saying no to most questions asked by a doctor usually means there is nothing they can do to help you.)
His diagnosis was that I had high-frequency hearing loss, which was causing the ringing in my ears. I looked around his office and focused on a table with cotton balls and tongue depressors, waiting for a cure for my problem. As I turned my attention back to my doctor, he told me that this meant if my hearing loss continued, I would be wearing hearing aides in about ten years. I focused back to the table and took a few deep breaths and tried to swallow the knot that had risen in my throat before my eyes began to water uncontrollably.
Hearing aides? But I’m only 25. I'm still so young, how could I have hearing loss? I was told that this may be caused by genetics (my father has tinnitus, but it was caused by loud noises), otherwise he didn’t have a reason for the cause of my tinnitus.
He told me there are no cures for tinnitus, I would have to learn to deal with it. The medicine that had been shown to help tinnitus (valium), he was unwilling to prescribe to me, which would probably do more damage than help anyway.
I left the office as quickly as I could after this. As I drove away, it started to rain. It was the perfect weather for my mood. As the drops collected onto my windshield, I thought that it could be worse. There are so many other things out there that people are dealing with: cancer, degenerative diseases, I should not be making such a big deal about this. But alas, I have never had anything wrong with me that would last the rest of my life, I felt like I was getting old at the ripe age of 25.
Since that rainy day in October, I have researched extensively about tinnitus. Most of the recommendations include background noise and learning to cope.
I was able to find studies that suggest zinc, gingko balboa and vitamin B12 help the severity but am unsure of the effectiveness.
I also stumbled upon a segment on This American Life, a weekly radio show, that helps communicate some of the sounds I am hearing. This helped because I could share with friends and family what was causing my anguish.
Today I try to tune out the ringing that has become an everyday annoyance for me. Some days I think about it more, but I have noticed that when I don’t get enough sleep, the ringing seems to be worse. The day a cure is found for tinnitus, I will be the first in line. But until then I am thankful that I still have my hearing, for now.