Odd tinnitus problem
April 5, 2010 10:04 AM   Subscribe

I am having a bizarre tinnitus (ear ringing) issue. Please help give me ideas on how to solve it.

I'm a 29 year old male with ringing in my right ear. The ringing is a bit different than what I would classify as general. The ringing fluctuates in pitch and intensity, sounding similar to a fax machine or modem making a connection.

I've been to two different ENTs and one audiologist about my tinnitus. All have said that I have minor hearing loss in my right ear (my hearing is an A, not an A+). They have recommended listening to white noise to compensate for what is thought to be a neurotransmitter/synapse issue in my right ear. The white noise easily masks the noise, and definitely helps when the tinnitus keeps me awake. I've had an MRI to rule out a neuroma.

But, here is where things get odd. I just started getting this ringing sound about a year ago. When it first started, I only noticed it at night or in the morning, when I was at home. To this day, I only hear the ringing when I am at my home. Two months ago I moved, and the ringing went away for a few weeks, but then returned once I settled into my new home. Recently, the tinnitus has been worse, often keeping me from proper sleep. Then, just this past weekend, my wife and I went out of town. I never heard the ringing the whole weekend. We returned home last night, and the ringing was still gone, but then, early this morning, the ringing came back.

Why is it that I only hear this noise at home? Is it something environmental? Since it happened at my previous home, could it be something inside our home that moved with us? I'd like to think that I have super hearing and can hear the WiFi coursing through my house, but I really doubt that is true, but I am open to any help or ideas that would help explain this.
posted by blueplasticfish to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It could be something in the house (there are dozens of things in mine that emit high frequency squeals), or it could be that your house is the quietest place you ever are, so you can only hear the ringing there.
posted by Sys Rq at 10:15 AM on April 5, 2010

I wonder what happens if you have a total power outage at your house. Total, including the refrigerator, the heater, all lights, a burglar light outside, and so on.
posted by Ery at 10:20 AM on April 5, 2010

Easy enough to test Ery's comment -- go flip the main breaker. Do it at night so it's quiet. I made my husband flip the breaker for me while I was up in our bedroom when I was first diagnosed with tinnitus because I was just SURE it was something in the house making noise. It wasn't.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:28 AM on April 5, 2010

Were there any changes to your diet or medication routine when you were away from home? Do you take any aspirin on a daily basis? Have your caffeine habits changed (or did they change while you were away)? I had some ear ringing issues about 18 months ago, and I found that the combination of my (large) cup of coffee and a daily dose of aspirin (80mg) made my ears ring. I cut out the aspirin and cut back a bit on the coffee and the ringing went away. Not saying this is your case, and obviously this is just anecdotal, but I want to throw it out there, as diet and medication created a similar problem for me.
posted by mosk at 10:30 AM on April 5, 2010

I had a major hearing loss in my right ear after a major illness, and the tinnitus I had was a combination of ringing and what sounded like a faucet dripping. This went on for about a year or two, with its occurrence ranging from daily to sometimes disappearing for weeks at a time. I could never figure out why. Fast forward about 15 years, and now I only get it once in a blue moon, though my hearing loss has remained. All the doctors and audiologists have just shrugged and have never been able to explain or help much.
posted by HeyAllie at 10:42 AM on April 5, 2010

This is a long shot theory:

A modicum of scientists think tinnitus may be cause by depression. Since you seem to get it whenever you're at home, is it possible that there is some kind of "home = stress = tinnitus" connection? Again, kind of out there, but weirder things have happened.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:43 AM on April 5, 2010

Response by poster: Sys Rq, I actually have tried to measure this via a decibleometer, and, while my house is quiet, I am often at other places equally as quiet (e.g. my office (sometimes), and most recently our hotel room).

Eyebrows, I am positive that the ringing is in my head. It is tinnitus, and not a direct sound from anything in my house. But, I am wondering if something in my house causes the tinnitus to act up.

Mosk, the only thing I can think of is that I didn't take my Vitamin D or fish oil pills while I was gone. Although, admittedly, even when I am home I don't take them every day. My coffee/caffeine intake was about normal while out of town, and I don't take aspirin or any other NSAIDs routinely.

Thanks for the help so far all :)
posted by blueplasticfish at 10:43 AM on April 5, 2010

Have you had your blood pressure checked?

I experience tinnitus in both ears when my blood pressure is up for any reason. I have quite low blood pressure, so it doesn't take much to get it up high enough to experience the ringing, I've noticed (anything above normal for me). I notice my blood pressure tends to go up a bit right before I go to sleep, so I get the ringing quite a bit when I lay down at night.

There may be some factor in your house that causes your blood pressure to spike there, vs anywhere else. Stairs? Stress? Excitement at being home?
posted by strixus at 10:57 AM on April 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

It could be that you just tend to notice it more when you're at home for a combination of reasons -- psychological/emotional and due to the nature of the ambient noise in your home. Your office may be quieter, but what noise there is could be the right frequency to mask your tinnitus.

I find my tinnitus more intrusive when I'm at work and less at home, but I know it's really the same in either place.
posted by eeby at 10:59 AM on April 5, 2010

There is an OTC supplement called lipoflavanoid you can try that can help with ringing in the ears. Another drug (prescription only) drug that I have seen for treating tinnitus is gabapentin. Other than that, aspirin (and other salicylates) have been known to cause tinnitus.
posted by candasartan at 11:27 AM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Maybe you're allergic to something at home? I'm allergic to mold and tree pollens, and the first sign anything around my house is sporing is the sudden reappearance of my tinnitus. Does it ease off if you take a Benadryl?
posted by headspace at 11:35 AM on April 5, 2010

"Then, just this past weekend, my wife and I went out of town. I never heard the ringing the whole weekend. We returned home last night, and the ringing was still gone, but then, early this morning, the ringing came back."

I didn't know psychogenic tinnitus existed until I just Googled for it, at least two authors at the Journal of the American Academy of Family Physicians think it does. It's worth at least considering.
posted by fydfyd at 12:22 PM on April 5, 2010

As mentioned but that I can report due to experience, high blood pressure can cause this although, for me, it was identical in both ears.
posted by bz at 12:28 PM on April 5, 2010

Response by poster: Psychogenic could make sense. However, the odd thing was, when I was under a lot of stress associated with my recent move, the tinnitus when away.

I will check my blood pressure, but this also seems to be negatively related. When I am up moving around I dont here it, but this could be due to the ambient noise associated with movement.

Thanks again for all of the responses.
posted by blueplasticfish at 1:38 PM on April 5, 2010

First, to get this out of the way, I take Gabapentin for other neurological issues, and it doesn't have any impact on my tinnitus.

I think you have environmental issues, but not in the manner you are considering. When you are at home, there are certain background noises and sounds that you absorb and, ultimately, tune out. When you moved, for example, the background sounds were new to you and noticeable. After a while, they became your new background. When you are away from home, everything is new and different and you are paying attention to these sounds. Having nothing to pay attention to leaves you listening to the tinnitus. Having anything to distract you, whether it is "white noise" or just different background noises, will diminish the impact of the tinnitus for you. As to the quiet times at the hotel, I have never been to one that didn't have some sort of sound coming through the walls, doors or windows that, if not disturbing, was enough to tune out the ringing.
posted by Old Geezer at 2:54 PM on April 5, 2010

Gabapentin is ineffective:


It has occasionally been prescribed for treatment of idiopathic subjective tinnitus, although a double blind, randomized controlled trial has found this ineffective.[
posted by noonknight at 11:21 PM on April 5, 2010

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