Dear Lipreading Mom,
I've had constant tinnitus for the last few months (post really terrible
sinus/ear infections). It's worsening. I've had tympanometry testing and
couple rounds of prednisone. No dice. My real question: I'm very sensitive to
sound and loud noises definitely exacerbate it. Ear plugs don't seem like a
realistic option. In fact, other manageable noise is welcome distraction from
the high-pitched scream... But with my kids, daily unpredictable ear blasting is
just gonna happen. Any ideas or suggestions? I'm open. I'm going crazy.
Exhausted by the Ear Noise
I feel your ear pain (no pun intended) as I have lived with tinnitus 24/7 for the past 12 years. The American Tinnitus Association was established to help people, such as you and I, cope with the sound of ringing, high-pitched squealing, buzzing, or chirping sounds in our ears. Tinnitus can be a sign of many things---an infection, exposure to loud noise, a precursor to hearing loss, medicine that is ototoxic or damaging to the hearing. People of all ages are affected by tinnitus---children with chronic ear infections, teens who have damaged their hearing from loud music, workers routinely exposed to loud equipment without ear protection. According to the new book by Katherine Bouton, Shouting Won't Help: Why I--and 50 Million Other Americans--Can't Hear You, tinnitus is the number one health complaint of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. So tinnitus affects a wide percentage of the population.
Because you have been treated for an ear/sinus infection and the tinnitus has persisted, I would encourage you to do what I did back in 2001 when I first noticed my ears ringing:
1) Visit an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor (ENT) pronto to have your ears thoroughly examined. Once any further infection is ruled out, you will likely be referred to an audiologist to have your hearing tested. I can't stress enough the urgency of setting up the ENT appointment as soon as possible.
2) To cope with the tinnitus during the day, I limit the three S's: salt, soda (or any caffeine), and stress. All three of these things can raise blood pressure just enough to worsen my ear ringing. Eat a low-sodium diet, switch to decaffeinated drinks, and find activities that relax you during the day. For me, that includes walking, reading, and praying. I know it can be difficult to minimize stress when you have small children at home (like you and I do), so when my tinnitus is really bad, I ask my husband or a friend to help with the kids for an hour so I can take a nap.
3) To cope with tinnitus at night, you might consider adding your own soothing white noise. I sleep with the ceiling fan on even during the winter. I also know there are CDs you can purchase that play soothing white noise, such as the sound of ocean waves or a beating heart. To keep from tossing and turning, I take an over-the-counter melatonin pill an hour before bedtime, which helps with relaxation.
4) As for the sensitivity to loud noise, you might ask the ENT to determine if something, besides tinnitus, is causing this. Hyperacusis and hearing recruitment are characterized by oversensitivity to certain sounds, and they are two different health issues. I found an article through the Hypercusis Network that may explain differences between the two. My friends who have one or the other have worn noise-cancelling headphones when the painful sounds become intolerable.
Once you have visited the ENT and audiologist, please keep me posted.
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Shanna Groves was diagnosed with progressive hearing loss after the birth of her first child. She was 27. Raised in a hearing family, Shanna traces her hearing loss to a genetic loss on the paternal side of her family. She is mom to three young children, a published author, and speaker. Her books are featured at www.ShannaGroves.com. Shanna blogs about being a hard of hearing mom at http://LipreadingMom.com.