Ding Dong Merrily in My Head
March 5, 2010 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Help me cope with tinnitus.

I have been diagnosed with tinnitus caused by an "irritated nerve" ... there is no hearing loss or direct cause; they tell me that it's a nerve that's just firing when it oughtn't be. I hear a constant high-pitched whine, like the sound electricity makes. (I have been my GP, an audiologist, and an ENT, working together, and I am satisfied I received good care; I am pondering getting a second opinion but this will require 3 hours of travel and fussing with the insurance company, and I'm not particularly confident they'll have anything new to say to me.)

I was told the sound will either spontaneously disappear or it will be with me for the rest of my life.

Are there any strategies that can help me? Yoga, relaxation? (Especially anything that might encourage it to spontaneously disappear!) Do you have any recommendations for white noise machines to sleep to, that won't bother my husband too much? (And that are reliable and worth the money.) Are there white noise "songs" I can download on iTunes? Is there anything else in particular that's helped you?

It doesn't bother me much during the day as long as there's ambient noise (and music provides enough ambient noise when I'm otherwise lacking), but sleep is a real problem and quiet concentrating work can be difficult.
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have tinnitus. It came on sort of suddenly for me and I thought I was going to lose my mind for a while and at some point got over the hump with it. Sorry about your diagnosis, but you seem to be doing all the right things. Here are some things that worked for me.

- in reading about tinnitus I realized that for many people, the anxiety that comes with the ringing is almost worse than the noise itself. When I got diagnosed, I was worried I was going deaf, worried that I'd never sleep again, worried about what my deaf life would be like, etc etc. It was really a mess. I did a few things like keeping white noise going a lot of the time, sleeping with the fan on, knocking out almost all caffeine [and all late night caffeine] and looking into medicines that were ototoxic and avoiding them. I also got my doctor to prescribe me some lorazepam which I keep around if in fact I'm really having anxiety-related sleep issues. I don't have much of it and rarely use it, but it's great to know there's a knock-out pill if I need it. Exercise also helped with managing the anxiety.
- as far as white noise, Audacity has a "generate white noise" option. It will make a small sound file which you can play on a loop. I use it occasionally, it's helpful. I sleep with earplugs and just actually focus on the ringing and it helps me sleep because I'm no longer worried about it, I just sort of live with it. You might want to screw around with pink noise and other natural sounds [waterfalls, waves] because they can be useful as well and a little more intersting than white noise.
- showers are a great time to sort of get a rest from the ringing. I've found that to be true with swimming as well though that may be different depending on the type of tinnitus.
- It was useful to me to know that a lot of people I knew were living with this on a daily basis and not going crazy. You might want to talk to friends and family about this and see if anyone else is managing it. For whatever reason I found it useful to talk to people who had been living with it for years and were ... fine. I know this may be the exact opposite of what you're looking for, but it might be calming.

Mine ebbs and flows. It seems to be tied to my stress levels [there has been exactly one day it has woken me from a sound sleep and that was before a big trip, usually it's pretty background]. As you get more used to it, it becomes less distracting. You can check the tinnitus tag on AskMe for some more people talking about them. I've read them all and there's a lot of good advice there too.
posted by jessamyn at 7:07 PM on March 5, 2010 [4 favorites]

Rather than a white noise machine or iPod playlist, I just run a fan at night. If it's cold I aim it away from me. However if you Google, there are downloadable tracks of white/pink/other colors of noise.
posted by IndigoRain at 7:17 PM on March 5, 2010

I've found that earplugs make my tinnitus worse, in that it removes background noise which would otherwise distract me.

Also, within the last two months or so, the ringing has noticeably changed pitch, and it's been REALLY distracting. I'm chalking it up to the iphone, which may be louder than any of my previous phones. The damage is already done, but I really try never to use the handset, and it hasn't gotten worse.
posted by nevercalm at 7:19 PM on March 5, 2010

My friend just sent me this article: Neuromonics Tinnitus Breakthrough?
posted by ericthegardener at 7:26 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am in a similar spot. I use an iPod Touch, with a couple of apps from TMSoft that simulate rain and other natural background noises, and a pair of Westone UM1 low-profile earbuds. iPod goes under the pillow, sound file has a timer so it fades after 20 minutes, and I go to sleep like that. I'm being specific but I'm sure there areother similar solutions. Good luck, because tinnitus basically sucks.
posted by zadcat at 7:29 PM on March 5, 2010

When my dad started suffering from tinnitus, his doc put him on a very low salt diet and the tinnitus went away. Might be worth a try since it's a relatively easy change to make.
posted by jamaro at 7:32 PM on March 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

iPhone and apps like White Noise or Ambiance, and an under-pillow speaker (I got mine from the NPR online store). Fan or space heater. Sometimes I switch to public radio streams for sleeping, classical music or the BBC World Service.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 8:08 PM on March 5, 2010

My longstanding tinnitus has gotten a lot better the past few months, and I think it's because I've been relaxing my jaw while I sleep. I have used a mouth guard for ages, which made no difference in the tinnitus. But recently I've successfully stopped clenching so much, and I think this has helped my tinnitus. So, if you clench or have bruxism, it might be worth trying to work on that (I use relaxation techniques, make myself sleep on my back, and put a hot compress on my jaw while falling asleep.)

Things that didn't change the ringing for me: acupuncture or the herbs my acupuncturist gave me.

Like Jessamyn said, it may not be what you want to hear, but lots of people have tinnitus and are pretty used to it. So, try not to be too worried about the "you might have it forever" part. You might, but if you do, you'll probably get used to it.
posted by gubenuj at 8:47 PM on March 5, 2010

You should definitely consider the low–salt diet.

On another note, Anthony Robbins has some good ideas about ways you can focus the mind on other things (I know that tinnitus is NOT easy to ignore, but coming up with strategies for reducing your attention to it should definitely be considered).

Good luck, and never underestimate of the power of trying different things until you find something that really starts working for you.
posted by fantasticninety at 8:48 PM on March 5, 2010

Just went to my first ENT visit for this problem yesterday. Mine is just a few months old and pretty mild, but I went for ideas.

-cut out aspiriln, advil, and naprosyn
-cut out caffeine
-try sudafed for a while to make sure your eustachian tubes are draining
-try lipo-flavinoid supplement for a few week to see if it helps.

However, mine is mild, I am pretty sure it is not a precursor to something awful, and I can distract myself from it pretty easily.

Good luck to all of us!
posted by SLC Mom at 9:24 PM on March 5, 2010

2nding a good fan -- preferably el cheapo. I like a heavy rattling box fan. I have (pretty mild) tinnitus, and find that even a small amount of background noise makes it more tolerable. An open window isn't bad when I'm not in the city.
posted by zvs at 12:29 AM on March 6, 2010

Mine's a high pitched continuous whine and is noticeably worse if I don't get enough sleep. But otherwise it doesn't bother me much these days. It took a few months to get used to it though.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 4:22 AM on March 6, 2010

Thirding exploring the diet option. I used to suffer from it a lot, but then I cut caffeine out of my diet and it pretty much vanished.
posted by Atreides at 6:49 AM on March 6, 2010

I am not a doctor. There are very few subtypes of tinnitus that respond well to surgical, environmental, or medical monotherapy, and QoL improvement within these sub-types is dramatic though limited in scope. One therapy that has shown extremely broad improvement of QoL across the spectrum of tinnitus sufferers and that persists for long periods is tinnitus-specific CBT.
posted by meehawl at 9:17 AM on March 6, 2010

Response by poster: I'm trying the various diet changes, so far without success, but obviously they need time. A fan doesn't seem to help at night (nor running my blower, which is noisy enough I feel like it SHOULD help); I think I need a different sort of white noise, so I'm going to look into the speakers and machines and things.

Thanks for the tips so far ... will respond more later, have guests arriving. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:33 AM on March 6, 2010

I had this when I was younger - what you want is a clock that ticks reasonably loudly next to your bed. It needs to not be too loud, but you should be able to clearly hear the ticking, plus you don't want it to chime or make any odd noise to mark the hours. Cheap and easy to try, and good chance it lets you sleep and you just stop noticing it entirely after a while. Saved my sanity!
posted by meepmeow at 12:44 PM on March 6, 2010

I just want to say damn you for bringing the incessant whine to my attention once again. I will fail to notice it for days or even weeks on end if I don't think about it. The drone of all the fans, hard drives, and whatever else makes enough white noise that I don't notice it except on really bad days or when it's brought to my attention.
posted by wierdo at 4:37 AM on March 7, 2010

I've had it for a little over nine years now and can second a lot of the things above. I found the best thing to do is to – for want of a better term – just make friends with it. The best comparison I've heard compares having tinnitus to buying a house next to train tracks. Soon you don't even hear the train go past. The codicil to this is that you have to allow that there will be times where it just gets the best of you but you have to have the confidence that you'll get back to not noticing the trains.

As for more practical tips, your instinct is to probably bury your affected ear into the pillow when you sleep as if shutting out an external sound. I find it works better to do the opposite so that whatever ambient noise there is can help mask the ringing. (I happen to live in the woods and the bug noises in the summer are the best masking there is for me.)

And here's one more esoteric thing. I don't complain anymore to my spouse or kids. I used to. A lot. It took me a while to realize that they just don't understand it. And they never will. They can't understand the sheer constancy of it. It was making me come off as a whiner ... and that was affecting my self-image ... and that was raising my stress level ... and that was affecting my attempts to treat it as no big deal. Since I sucked it up and kept it to myself, it's been better for everyone.
posted by lpsguy at 7:56 AM on March 8, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the ideas. The not-complaining actually helps a lot, lpsguy. I've gotten more used to sleeping with it ringing, not as bad as it was, though sometimes it still keeps me up. The whole-house fan, which is terribly noisy, is also providing some relief.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:20 PM on April 5, 2010

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