On November 23, I developed mild tinnitus. I’ve been hearing a constant sound in my head. The sound is a mid-pitched whistle or whine similar to what you hear through the wall when your neighbor is vacuuming. The principal frequency seems to be about 1.1 kHz. Here’s the closest I could get when trying to generate the sound in my tone generator.
The volume is not high – the sound is overpowered by the refrigerator in my kitchen, the sound of water flowing in the pipes in the bathroom. I can often hear it over my PC (several very quiet fans + quiet 7200 rpm hard drive) or during a conversation in a quiet room when nobody is talking.
As I’ve spent a lot of time reading and thinking about tinnitus, I want to share some tips that helped me get over the initial shock and go back to living normally. Much of the advice in this FAQ is based on what I’ve read about Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), the leading clinically proven tinnitus treatment.
What causes tinnitus?
Sometimes tinnitus is a side-effect of taking certain drugs, or of another condition, such as earwax buildup, ear infection, hypertension or temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder.
Most commonly, tinnitus is experienced after exposure to loud noise. The basic mechanism seems to be that noise knocks out some of your hair cells (temporarily or permanently). This shuts off the signal to auditory neurons in your brain, causing them to go haywire. As with most brain-related things, the details of how this happens are poorly understood.
Tinnitus caused by exposure to loud noise usually goes away in a few days. However, it could also become a long-term problem. Long-term tinnitus is associated with hearing loss. Between 60 and 90% (depending on the source) of tinnitus patients have some degree of hearing loss. This is, however, not a true explanation of tinnitus, because the majority of hearing-impaired people don’t have tinnitus, and a significant percentage of tinnitus patients have normal hearing (especially among younger people).
Here’s a good overview of possible tinnitus causes from the American Tinnitus Association.
When will my tinnitus go away?
If you were recently exposed to loud noise (for example, you went to a concert), you may just have temporary tinnitus that will go away in a few days. (By the way, if you have acute noise-induced hearing loss, it may be a good idea to rush to an ENT and ask for immediate steroid therapy to prevent permanent hearing damage.)
In many other cases, tinnitus goes away on its own within 2-3 months. In still others, it takes 2-3 years. On the other hand, there are people who have had tinnitus for over 20 years. Unfortunately, I am not aware of any reliable statistics that would show what percentage of cases resolve within a few months. The best I could find was this informal survey.
What can I do about my tinnitus?
You can go to a doctor in case your tinnitus is due to something that can be fixed or treated easily.
You can try one or more remedies recommended by tinnitus patients – vitamin B12, magnesium, ginkgo biloba, caffeine withdrawal and paracetamol – for each of these, you will find people who swear it reduces their tinnitus. And you can certainly avoid wasting your money on the countless “tinnitus cure” scams ran by unscrupulous assholes all over the Web.
Other than that, there is currently no proven method of rewiring your brain to make tinnitus disappear completely and permanently. There are therapies that can lessen tinnitus or even make it disappear (e.g. notched music therapy), but their effect is temporary, i.e. they must be continued indefinitely if the effect is to be maintained.
However, you can do two very important things:
- You can stop the noise from bothering you.
- You can learn not to notice the noise.
If you achieve these two goals, tinnitus will be no more of a problem for you than the color of the walls in your apartment. It will still be noticeable, if you choose to notice it, but it will not be an issue.
Dr Stephen M. Nagler described this beautifully in his introduction to Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (the page I’m quoting is no longer available online; here’s the closest I could find):
TRT is not a cure for tinnitus. It is a treatment approach designed with the goal of tinnitus ceasing to be an issue in the patient’s life. It is designed with the goal of making tinnitus into a pair of pants. Ninety percent of the time, people are unaware of their pants. The 10% of the time they are aware, they do not “cope” with their pants, they do not “deal” with their pants, they do not “learn to live” with their pants, and they most certainly do not spend any time worrying whether the following day will be a “good pants day” or a “bad pants day.” They simply wear their pants; and when the goal of TRT has been met, tinnitus should be just like that!
How do I stop the noise from bothering me?
The first thing you must realize is that the sound itself is not that much of a problem. Unless your tinnitus is uncommonly severe, the noise in your head probably does not interfere with your hearing in a significant way.
The real problem is that (1) you are paying attention to the noise and (2) you are reacting to it in an emotional way. In neurological terms, the auditory stimulus leads to a stress response. You find the sound disturbing, you can’t think about anything else, your heart is racing, you can’t fall asleep at night – all these problems are not due to tinnitus; they are due to your emotional reaction to tinnitus.
Does it have to be this way? No. You are probably surrounded by many sounds that are objectively louder than your tinnitus, yet you don’t give them a second thought. Every day, you sit in front of a computer that has noisy fans and hard drives, but you don’t obsess over it. While driving, you’re exposed to the sound of traffic and your own car, sometimes for hours, but that does not make you miserable. Airline pilots spend half their lives in the noise of jet engines, but they don’t make a big deal out of it. The only difference between tinnitus and those “everyday sounds” is that you interpret those other sounds as “normal background noise”.
As I sit in front of my computer writing this post, I am surrounded by potentially annoying stimuli. I hear the drone of the washing machine that’s running in the bathroom, the whirr of the hard drives in my computer, and some sounds of traffic outside the window. I am wearing eyeglasses that put constant pressure on my nose and ears; worse still, their rims impose themselves on my field of vision, putting a useless blurry border around whatever I’m looking at. To the right of my screen, there is a network router with bright LEDs blinking at irregular intervals. And whenever I move in my chair, it makes a fairly loud squeak. All of these things can be seen as irritating, yet none of them bothers me in the least bit.
There is no objective reason why I should be completely indifferent to all these stimuli, yet be disturbed by tinnitus. After all, tinnitus is just another sound I can’t do anything about.
Your emotional reaction to tinnitus is a matter of attitude. And attitudes to stimuli can change. I remember very clearly that I used to be annoyed by the ticking of the wall clock in my room, to the point that I had to take it down. Guess what? I recently hung it again and now I kind of like it. To take another example, there are people who are annoyed by the noise made by children playing in the playground. Often, the same people will find it much less annoying (or even pleasant) once they have their own children and begin to associate the sound with something pleasant.
It is helpful to realize that most of your negative attitude to tinnitus comes from the initial shock. If you had been born with tinnitus, would you worry about it? Certainly not. For you, it would be the way the world works – much like the fact that you have to blink every 20 seconds or so. Some people who have had tinnitus since childhood are indifferent to it to the point that they believe it is completely normal.
Finally, here are some positive thinking tricks to “make friends” with your tinnitus:
- think of it as the “dial tone of the universe” (not everyone can hear it, you’re among the chosen ones!)
- think of it as a noise that your brain makes when it’s working (it’s good to know your brain is working, isn’t it?)
- think “my invisible force field is on and is protecting me” (this one was suggested by Thomas Tang in the comments here, I think it’s great)
What is partial masking?
Partial masking is a good technique that can help you stop reacting emotionally to tinnitus. Surround yourself with some sort of noise that blends with the sound of tinnitus without obscuring it completely. Good sources of noise include computer-generated noise, recordings with sounds of nature (rain, ocean, mountain stream, etc.), fans, radio static, air humidifiers, etc. There is a good free online noise generator over at myNoise.net. Remember that if your goal is to reduce your emotional response to tinnitus, the tinnitus should still be partially audible over the masking noise. The reason is that you cannot get used to something you don’t hear. You can then gradually decrease the volume of the masking noise until your tinnitus becomes as boring and unworthy of attention as the buzz of the refrigerator in your kitchen.
Does tinnitus deprive you of silence?
Among tinnitus patients, there is a tendency to think “I will never hear silence again”, but it is worth noting that humans are incapable of hearing complete silence anyway. In a well-known study by Heller and Bergman (1953), out of 100 tinnitus-free university students placed in an anechoic chamber, 93% reported hearing a buzzing, pulsing or whistling sound.
How do I learn not to notice the noise?
At the core of tinnitus is The Loop. The Loop is my own term for the positive feedback loop created by the following two mechanisms:
- The more attention you give to your tinnitus, the louder it gets. (What happens is, you are telling your brain “This sound is important/threatening, I need to hear it more clearly”.)
- The louder your tinnitus is, the more it attracts your attention, which in turn makes it even louder, and so on.
This is a vicious circle that can be extremely hard to break out of. In the first few days after my tinnitus appeared, I gave it so much of my attention that eventually I could hear it even while watching TV.
The loop starts when you focus your attention on the noise. Once you let yourself do that, the noise will get louder, making it much harder to get your mind off it. So Rule Number One is: don’t start The Loop. Whenever you find your attention wandering towards the noise, use your will to immediately focus on something else. Get busy. Slap yourself on the face. If you’re trying to fall asleep, try counting. Remember how miserable you felt the last time you let yourself focus on the noise. Do whatever it takes to take your mind off the tinnitus. If all else fails, mask it with music or some noise. Use the “Reddit maneuver” for short-term relief. But whatever you do, don’t start The Loop.
Learning to take your attention away from tinnitus takes training. One technique that helps with this is having a loud ticking clock in your room. The moment your attention wanders towards the tinnitus, focus on the tick-tock instead. Counting tick-tocks is also a good way to fall asleep.
Tinnitus gets louder when you are anxious about it, so anything that reduces your overall anxiety level is helpful. There are drugs that are known to help, but exercise works great, too. If you make yourself feel so tired that you can barely move, it’s really hard to think about tinnitus – when your body is aching, all you can think of is how good it feels to lie down and rest. I would also recommend experimenting with cold showers or cold baths. In general, anything that causes (safe) pain is good because once the pain is gone, you experience the opposite feeling: bliss, warmth, energy.
Note: an earlier version of this post mentioned Xanax as a possible remedy for tinnitus-related anxiety. However, Xanax (and other benzodiazepines) produce dependence and can be very difficult to quit. If I were to take the medication route, I’d look into other anxiolytic drugs first.
If you haven’t heard your tinnitus for some time, don’t listen for it. Don’t ask yourself: “Do I hear the noise now?” or “Has it really gone away or is it just temporarily masked by ambient noise?”. In the first weeks after I got tinnitus, whenever it stopped being noticeable, I would go to a quiet room and put on my isolating headphones to see if it really went away. I did this many times a day and all it did was make me notice my tinnitus again. In the end, I had to set a rule: I am allowed one “tinnitus test” per day, when I get up in the morning. For the rest of the day, no checking.
Remember: If you listen for tinnitus, you are just training your brain to hear it better. Don’t do it. Focus on other things in your surroundings and your life.
What if I’m already in The Loop?
Ah, yes. When you’re in The Loop, your tinnitus seems so loud that it’s like a tiger in your room – it seems damn near impossible not to pay attention to it. In addition, the stress you are probably experiencing does not make it any easier to exercise mental control.
Still, you have to help yourself. You have to get out of The Loop somehow. Here’s a method that worked for me: Mask the hell out of it and go to sleep. When you wake up the next morning, use every ounce of self-control you have to focus your attention on things other than the tinnitus. Keep telling yourself: if I let myself focus on it, it will just get bigger and even harder to ignore. Whenever your thoughts start wandering toward the tinnitus, slap yourself on the face or pinch the back of your forearm (this serves as negative reinforcement). The goal is to develop a mental habit to distract yourself every time you start thinking about your tinnitus. As time passes, it will get easier and easier to distract yourself when tinnitus becomes noticeable.
It can be hard to keep this up for the whole day, especially in the beginning, so use masking liberally. (Full masking is not recommended in Tinnitus Retraining Therapy because it removes the noise completely rather than letting you get comfortable with it, but my experience is that when you’re going crazy from listening to your tinnitus, masking it partially doesn’t make you any calmer. There are times when you need emergency measures.)
When you cannot help but pay attention to your tinnitus and it’s beginning to stress you out, you can try the following mental technique that I’ve found very effective. I call it the Refrigerator Trick. The trick is to imagine that the sound of tinnitus is made by an actual device in the room, perhaps a small refrigerator. It’s amazing that simply having that thought brings about instant stress relief. As soon as the sound is associated with an everyday object, it seems the brain no longer has any reason for alarm. Once the tinnitus is classified as an “everyday noise”, it is much easier to take your mind off it. To make this visualization more convincing, you can picture what the refrigerator looks like, where it’s standing, etc.
Useful resources on tinnitus
- Dr. Nagler’s Tinnitus Site – a very well-written site with tinnitus information and support, by Dr Stephen Nagler, who is a tinnitus patient himself. His advice is based on Pawel Jastreboff’s Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) model. Make sure to check out the Articles section.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) page by Pawel Jastreboff. TRT “uses a combination of low level, broad-band noise and counseling to achieve the habituation of tinnitus, that is the patient is no longer aware of their tinnitus, except when they focus their attention on it, and even then tinnitus is not annoying or bothersome”.
- Tinnitus Support Message Board – the largest and best forum for tinnitus patients
- Tinnitus success stories from real people
- myNoise.net – a free online noise generator
- Plasticity – I made a free brain training game that may change your perception of tinnitus – see below
Update (Sep 2011)
I still have tinnitus, but have become indifferent to it to a degree I would never have thought possible. Basically, now it’s like the sound of the hard drive in my laptop. Sure, I notice it sometimes, but I don’t focus on it; I just go back to whatever I was doing. I’m certainly not sitting there writing an e-mail on my laptop and thinking “OMG, here’s the damn hard drive noise again, why won’t it stop?”. Needless to say, I don’t check the intensity of my tinnitus every day anymore. In fact, I’ve gone weeks without noticing it.
I used to be scared of going to sleep without masking sounds, as the silence at night brings the tinnitus out. Now it’s no big deal: I don’t pay attention to it, and on the rare occasion that I do, it doesn’t bother me; it’s just “that familiar sound” to me.
Update – Plasticity (Aug 2012)
In April 2011, I wrote an HTML5 game called Plasticity with the objective of rewiring my auditory cortex and thus reducing my tinnitus. The idea was simple:
- Some neurons are firing in my auditory cortex (since I hear the tinnitus).
- The cortex can reorganize in response to training.
- Conclusion: I’m going to train my auditory cortex and see how that changes the perception of tinnitus.
Did it work? It’s hard to say. I was of course hoping for a dramatic, unmistakable result – a total cure. That didn’t happen. I thought I noticed some improvement in the course of my training, but that could have easily been simple placebo effect. After a month of using Plasticity every day, I went on a short foreign trip. During that trip, I noticed that I was able to fall asleep without masking noise for the first time since I got tinnitus. When I got back home, I decided to stop using masking at home as well. I also stopped using Plasticity. In the following months, my tinnitus gradually became a non-issue for me. I would still hear it, but only if I tried to. It would no longer hijack my whole brain. Since the auditory training was effective (I did get better at recognizing sounds, as evidenced by better scores), I think it’s possible that the training somehow changed my brain’s neurological response to tinnitus. I wouldn’t bet money on it, though.
Anyway, I have now made Plasticity available to everyone on the Web, so you are free to try it if you wish. (Here’s some more information on the scientific justification and tips on how to use Plasticity.) It’s totally unproven, but, unlike the countless fake cures on the Internet, it’s also totally free (though I’d be really grateful for your donations if you can afford to spare some money).
Update – (Sep 2013)
Well, OK. The bad news is that my tinnitus got worse. The good news is that it didn’t really upset me. It only bothered me a bit for 2-3 days, then I quickly forgot about it.
How did it get worse? Well, there was a loud concert that I went to with a friend. My friend wanted to get closer to the stage, and, like an idiot, I followed her, even though the music was already uncomfortably loud where I was standing. In other words, there was a red light but I ignored it. Needless to say, I won’t be attending any loud concerts anytime soon. Which is fine with me, I’m more of a home listener anyway.
The concert left me with a threshold shift (reduced hearing) and a whistling sound in my left ear that persisted for about 3 days. My hearing came back to normal (for a while I was worried that it would stay that way), but the whistling never went away. It is much louder than the tinnitus I have in my right ear.
Now I am 90% sure that my original tinnitus was caused by noise as well (another super-loud concert). So here’s a public service announcement: If you have tinnitus, avoid loud noises, such as concerts in enclosed spaces like clubs.
How did I get over it? Same as before, only 100 times faster. (I’m getting good at this!) I used a bit of masking, Plasticity, plus exercise to relax, but mostly it was just the familiar “don’t let yourself think about it” technique. Initially, I felt pretty bad – mainly because I hated myself for making such a stupid mistake and because I was afraid my hearing would be permanently impaired. After a couple days, though, I started paying less and less attention to it, and now I don’t think about it as an issue anymore. Actually, I am quite proud of how quickly I stopped caring about it.
Good luck! Remember to post your comments here.
Szilvia Apr 29, 2014 at 8:36 am
I am a 43 years old women with Tinnitus. I am Hungarian. I have had it once 6 years ago coming from nothing one day. I was also searching for help for a period. I went through on tests, CT, Bera (objective hearing test at brain), blood tests, etc. No result. No hearing loss, etc. I am quite stressfull person so the my best guess was stress as causing thing. Somehow – I can’t remember how – after about 3 months I didn’t focus on it anymore and I also can’t remember but somehow went away. At least didn’t hear it for 6 years. Until mid Februar, 2014. I woke up one morning wiht a very frustrating noise in my ears, specially in my lef ear. And than I made the mistake what shouldnt’h have. I started to be anxious, scared, frustrated. And it became louder and louder every day. I couldn’t sleep for weeks (6 years ago I had no such issue), I bacame anixous, depressed at a high volume. I couldn’t focus anything but the noise. I have hade heraring test again, MRI, neck X-ray, blood tests for diabetes, thyroid, etc. Nothing so far. (Thanks to Good). BUT after 1,5 month worrying and depressed a new noise formed on top of my basic noise. The basic one is such a speaker what is left swiched on mode (sometimes when its louder is more a ringing), but this second is very strange and it is like a kind of engine. My familiy is 100% that stress is what causing this to me. About the second noise I am also sure because it wasn’t existing from the begining at all, but my basis one…. I don’t know. It’s interesting that what could do 6 years ago I can hardly do no. Its simply difficult for me to be not scared. I take Rivotril sometimes when I feel too much anxious, nights for sleeping sometimes. In the begining I was not able to sleep at all, even without nature sounds, etc. And than I stopped doing this and try to fall asleep without it. The only thing we (my husband) use is to switch on TV (not too loud) put it on sleep function and fall asleep like that. I pray a lot ( am a beleiver) and hope that one day I’ll ba able to habituate this. I have no other choice as I can see. I don’t beleive in super cures and so. And I don’t noticed any changes by using less coffein (I neves drank coffee 🙂 , getting vitamins, magnesium, etc. I take ginko for 2 months with no result. Sometimes it gets louder without any objective reason. So I want to stop thinking on what helps and what doesn’t. What I’d like to reach is that I am able to forget about it as I could do it 6 years ago. I’ll try it anyway. Its just something what I wanted to share with someone who really know what Tinnitus means. Thanks for reading…. if. 🙂
Cherie Jun 4, 2014 at 12:28 am
Thought I would let you know that Riverside Medical Center is doing a Tinnitus study and I am going.
That will be this Friday night. I will let you know if anything what is going on doing this trial
Rachel Jun 7, 2014 at 3:24 am
Thank you very much! I have been having tinnitus since i was very young maybe when i was in primary school. I first thought it was very disturbing but i just learned to live with it / ignore it…. but im 25 now that feeling comes back from time to time. It always gets on my nerves everytime i hear it at night when im trying to sleep……..its really irritating and i cant really calm down and relax. Ill will try ur ways to make it less annoying although i cant get rid of it forever. But thank you!! X
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Go Michelle Jul 11, 2014 at 7:26 am
So thankful for this post. I am a young woman at the age of 25, and I have been suffering from on and off Tinnitus for 7 weeks now (with no exact cause). I had been under a lot of pressure lately because of family problems and this condition isn’t really making it better. I had gone to different ENT’s, and all hasn’t help a lot. They just kept giving me medications which doesn’t help a lot. So I’ll try your method and hope it is working for me. Thank you..
Shard Jul 17, 2014 at 4:53 pm
As a long time tinnitus sufferer (since I was 14) who has just this week suffered a sort of “relapse” of tinnitus in the form of a new noise I have to say that this blog and the plasticity tool are absolutely amazing! I have a tendency to anxiety and the sudden emergence of a new noise in my head almost made me insane during the first days but I immediately started to treat my tension neck and use the plasticity tool I feel like I’m going to beat this again in no time.
Thanks for your insight! Everyone, remember: there may not be a miracle pill that takes away the noise forever, but there sure are good ways to make life a bit easier.
Dave Jul 19, 2014 at 1:19 am
This blog is a great support tool!
I experienced severe T during and after completing chemotherapy. Actually started during chemo and also resulted in some hearing loss in the higher frequency range normal with age (61) but the real culprit for me was using the drug Cisplatin. Had hearing tests 5 months ago and last week to confirm the hearing loss, also saw an ENT who said not much can be done for the T or the hearing by the Cisplatin.
The T was (and remains) constant and still overwhelms many other everyday sounds including normal soft conversation. It has significantly altered my ability to sleep (using Xanax and ambien every evening). The other side effect has been a “metallc” sound to normal higher frequency sounds: like dishes on a counter, cymbals/snare drums when listening to music, high pitched barking (our little dog!) – they all can bee ear shattering – I’m not sure whether this is associated with the T or the hearing loss or both.
Anyway, working on using soothing music (just below the T level) at night to help mask the T and train the brain to ignore it. The first step is accepting that it isn’t going to go away on its own.
Marie Jul 19, 2014 at 4:33 pm
My husband had the exact same hearing loss effect from Cisplatin. He said that a lot of music became “tinny” and “thin” after he’d taken the drug and he had trouble hearing conversation in noisy rooms. Just letting you know you are not alone. If you are still taking Cisplatin, you might want to check with your doctor about carboplatin as an alternative, but I’m not a doctor, so this is just based on my husband’s experience. My very best to you in every way.
Mike Jul 31, 2014 at 4:47 am
I don’t understand why the drug companies aren’t all over this. I had never heard of tinnitus before developing symptoms but I can’t believe the level of anguish and despair I’ve encountered online.
And the “coping” techniques you read about are just as chilling. “Sleep with the radio on. Practice yoga. Take mind-altering anti-depressant drugs.” Sheesh…
And even the people who claim to have “habituated” always have a caveat. “Well just the other day I noticed my tinnitus is louder but it doesn’t bother me 80% of the time…”
I don’t want to “cope”. I want to go back to being the happy-go-lucky, carefree guy I was before this monster came into my life.
I would gladly pay $100 a month for some kind of remedy that you take everyday to keep this thing at bay…
If any of the drug companies are reading this, get on it. There is a billion dollars to be made here people. I wasn’t born with tinnitus so obviously it had to come from somewhere. If it came from somewhere, there must be a way to send it back there.
Whoever figures this thing out is gonna be filthy stinking rich…
Kate Jul 31, 2014 at 6:13 pm
Mike – what can I say, if only!
Lisa Sep 17, 2014 at 11:59 am
An update: Have now had tinnitus or 10 months. After the initial 4 months of hardly sleeping and loud sounds, I went on a daily dose of the benzo Lorazepam at just .5mg once per day. Unfortunately, I stayed on this for 4 months. The US doctor did not mention that long term use or withdrawal/tolerance could in most cases make t worse. So here I am doing a 5 month taper from 4 month use (ridiculous), and my t is as loud as ever again, my sleep broken, with vivid dreams.
Feel like I have gone backwards.
Benzos can be great in the first month or so, but after that, it can be a slippery slope as far as t is concerned.
Lisa Sep 17, 2014 at 12:01 pm
Just also wanted to ask those on here if in your first year if the perceived volume of your tinnitus decreased – a natural fade? Or what what the timeframe, if you did experience this? Note, this is different from habituation, which often may take longer.
Lisa Sep 30, 2014 at 11:21 am
I also have tinnitus that reacts to static sounds around the same frequency as my tinnitus – fans, generators, traffic, fridges. The list is endless. Just a note that when I first came on here, I wrote about this, and got comments that it was because I was listening out for it, that’s all. This is not the case. Tinnitus that reacts in this way to external sound sources is very real, and could also be triggering an additional interpretative mechanism in the central auditory cortex.
Tomasz Sep 30, 2014 at 11:46 am
Mine seems to react to certain sounds (like traffic noise) as well.
Julia Oct 12, 2014 at 7:13 am
Has anyone had a sudden-onset increase in tinnitus for several days after an MRI, and is there anything I should do right away before more time passes, like take a steroid? It’s been three days and the piercing whistle is still there, and I cannot sleep or function properly, and I keep crying in despair. It is like I am back where I was in 2006, when I first got tinnitus and thought I would die. The onset back then seemed more gradual, and though it became quite loud and unbearable, especially at night, after a few months I began not noticing it, and in the years since I’d come to hardly notice it (and could live with it when I did) until this MRI-induced acute increase three days ago. Any helpful advice would be appreciated — but positive only, please, as I am prone to panic and despair.
Tomasz Oct 12, 2014 at 6:00 pm
It can be fairly loud inside an MRI machine (up to 100 dB). Does your hearing seem muffled? Are you hearing the same tinnitus sound that you’ve always heard? If the answer to both question is “yes”, then it’s possible that your tinnitus simply seems louder because all the other sounds are muffled. Kind of like when you cover your ears, tinnitus seems to get louder. If so, this should pass within a few days of the exposure.
Second, I think it’s possible for certain kinds of noise to trigger tinnitus. I’ve had it happen to me (with relatively soft sounds that could not have possibly caused the effect described above). It has always resolved itself rather quickly — but it’s important not to feed the emotional reaction to it, or it will get worse. Don’t get sucked into The Loop! Use the techniques I described in my post.
Steroids are prescribed right after exposure to very loud noise, in order to limit hearing damage. The efficacy of this treatment is disputed — there are studies which show it works (if administered within a few days), and others that fail to show any effect. If you think the MRI could have been loud enough to damage your hearing, then you can go to an ENT and they can make the decision.
It’s probably best to use ear protection whenever you’re exposed to loud noises for more than a few minutes. I use isolating headphones even when vacuuming, but that’s probably overkill.
Julia Oct 13, 2014 at 6:01 am
Thank you, Tomasz. It is the same kind of tinnitus as before (only louder and more piercing), but my hearing does not seem muffled — if anything, my ears are very sensitive right now — certain sounds seem to echo or ping off the tinnitus in a painful way. [I have an appt with an audiologist who specializes in tinnitus, but could not get in until the 23rd. I am wondering if I need to hurry and get to an ENT within a 10-day window of the MRI noise exposure.)
Tomasz Oct 13, 2014 at 7:07 pm
Julia, if you didn’t experience muffled or somehow altered hearing (like a loss of high-pitched sounds) after the MRI, then I’d say it’s unlikely you actually damaged your hearing. At least my experience is that exposure to loud noise always causes a temporary loss of sensitivity (the technical term is “threshold shift”). Perhaps the MRI noise wasn’t that loud and it just happened to be the type of sound that interacts with your tinnitus. As I said, I find my tinnitus get louder in the presence of certain sounds. (For example, I can hear it in my left ear when I hear traffic noise, but when I put on isolating headphones, it goes away. This is really odd, because tinnitus is supposed to be “in your head”, and therefore independent of outside noise, but that’s what happens.)
If this is what’s going on in your case, the only way is to make yourself stop thinking about it, and it will ease off.
Julia Oct 13, 2014 at 6:35 am
I should add that in the 8 years I’ve had tinnitus, I have been careful about using earplugs at concerts and other loud events. Why I did not think to use earplugs during this MRI a few day ago I do not know — I am furious at myself because of this. The headphones the technician placed on me were loose, so I think I was pretty badly exposed to 100+ decibels for 20+ minutes.
Tomasz Oct 13, 2014 at 7:21 pm
It probably wasn’t 100 decibels, that’s like a jack hammer 1 meter away. Traffic next to a busy freeway can get up to 90 dB. (Check this page for a reference.) Usually, you can tell if a noise can damage hearing — it’s simply uncomfortable. Was it uncomfortably loud in the MRI machine? Did you want to cover your ears?
Julia Oct 13, 2014 at 8:05 pm
Inside the MRI it was very uncomfortable — it did sound like a jackhammer rattling in my skull. Today, Day 4, the tinnitus is still loud and piercing.
Went to an ENT today; hearing tested fine (only a slight loss that could have been from years ago, when I also tested as a slight loss). He prescribed a short course of steroids. He also told me to order “Arches Tinnitus Formulas,” which I am very skeptical about, as they are merely $150+ worth of vitamins and herbs. I was surprised an MD would tell me to buy those.
I need to know that I will be able to sit and read again, to sit and write again, and to sleep.
Tomasz Oct 13, 2014 at 8:40 pm
The tinnitus formula recommended by your doctor is, from what I’ve read, essentially ginkgo + zinc. I found this discussion of both supplements in Pawel Jastreboff’s classic book:
In short, ginkgo could be helpful because it helps with stress, but no specific anti-tinnitus effects have been proved. (at least as of the time the book was written) You could get a generic ginkgo supplement that costs less than $150.
Anyway, it’s great news that your hearing is not damaged. I’m sure you’re experiencing a temporary tinnitus flare-up and your brain will readjust itself soon.
Tom Oct 16, 2014 at 10:55 am
I just red the whole story, I can totally find myself in it. Also the times it got worse because I was to stupid to protect my ears. The “feeling bad” after it… Nice to read about someone who actually experienced it the same.
Marlene Oct 27, 2014 at 6:17 pm
What an excellent read on all who posted ,lot of info ,put onto this blog site today by another tinnitus sufferer.Ive had tinnitus since 1996 ,but following a virus ,my Tinnitus has got worse ,plus now allergies and balance issues since the virus .will keep looking in .
Kate Oct 27, 2014 at 6:32 pm
Recently I’ve been having dizzy spells and having read related issues with this, I noticed that Tinnitus and Meniere’s Disease have a lot of similarities. Has anyone read about this or had dizzy spells due to tinnitus?
Marlene Oct 28, 2014 at 4:23 pm
I agree hundred per cent about scammers as to T cure ,they give out false hope ,shame on them that do this ,it shows no compassion to ones who suffer from this . Why are ones out there doing such dreadful thing it totally beyond my thinking .Karma sooner or later does catch up in one form or another ,either to them or a close loved one .who may one day suffer as we do from tinnitus .There is no cure ,just tips on how to cope for some .
Kate ,lots are given wrong diagnosis to this balance ,very rare do Drs agree as to the right name for it ,one says Menieres you get queasy ,next says no ,then the next will say you get both .So who do you believe .?
Best wishes go to all T .
Kate Nov 13, 2014 at 11:34 pm
Can you all please help?
A Phd student at Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research (UK) unit would like people who have tinnitus to take part in a study. The student is trying to find out more about why tinnitus is so much more distressing for some people than others. All you need to do is to complete a survey with questions about how your tinnitus affects you and how you feel. If you would like to take part in this study please contact the Phd student directly on firstname.lastname@example.org
jason Nov 13, 2014 at 11:55 pm
Thanks for the post Tomasz! By far the most helpful post I have read. I’m currently in the loop. My tinnitus has changed pitch, got louder to barely noticable and went away on a few occasions over an almost a two week period. My t started randomly one night at work, I noticed it over the ring of a computer. At that time I had been dealing with an acute onset of anxiety that was pushing me into depression. If im not focused on it and busy I realize that I haven’t heard it in a little while. On the other hand it gets really loud sometimes when I wake up suddenly or doze off for a few seconds. I have also been diagnosed with severe sleep apnea this week and will be getting a cpap today. I believe all the things I have experienced this past few weeks can contribute to tinnitus according to what I have read. I am sure mine will get better and go away and hopefully I can habituate really soon. Thanks for the positive and the article once again. Keep the info coming please.
Tomasz Nov 14, 2014 at 11:58 pm
Jason, thanks for writing. If you keep the positive attitude and learn to accept tinnitus as meaningless background noise, it will improve in no time!
jason Dec 3, 2014 at 9:59 am
My tinnitus is still there in the form of a light super high frequency ring but already I can go most of the day without noticing it if I am preoccupied. It still occasionally goes away completely. My anxiety has gotten much better and I have lost 26 lbs that has made a difference in my sleeping already. You really have to fight the urge to panic or stress over the ring to make it better. The first few weeks the outside of my ears would get sore from me plugging them to listen and the panic. I would suggest addressing other major health issues and anxiety first, then focus on the tinnitus. Stress and anxiety definitely makes it worse.
carolinaandbaby Dec 2, 2014 at 10:34 pm
What a great article you have written. Just reading your article made my tinnitus better. Thank you for the tips.
ganchca Dec 3, 2014 at 6:23 am
I owe this blog a great debt of gratitude. On Feb 23 of 2014, out of nowhere i got tinnitus. i went from ad agency partner/volunteer at my son’s school/6 day a week workouts, to total nervous breakdown. i have never, ever come close to experiencing the fear and insecurity i did in the 5 months that followed. i went to university researchers, doctors, went to a sleep clinic, sought out and spoke to perhaps 15 tinnitus “sufferers” (they all told me they didn’t feel like sufferers, but in my state, that’s what they were). i was nuts. the one message they all gave me, as this blog and the comments do, is that it resolves. it really does. one doc told me that your brain is very good at letting you tell it what is urgent, and what isn’t. and over time, it’ll figure it out on its own if you don’t. to anyone reading this excellent blog for the first time, what the author and others say is completely true – you will suddenly find that you don’t think of your “T” for an hour, then a half day, then a day, then perhaps a few days. when i notice it now, it’s only in passing. one doc i talked to has it – i asked, in my rookie panic, “so when do you hear it?”, and he replied, “only when i have conversations like this one, about tinnitus”. it’s true. i’d love to go back t myself in Feb and convey this, but temporal laws prohibit. so instead, to anyone worried about T’s impact on their life, don’t. it gets better. for sleep, i recommend this great app – http://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/whiteNoiseGenerator.php# – lets you tune the noise just where you want it, unlike basic white noise generators. hang in, all of you. everything you’re hearing about the condition taking care of itself is true. and a last note, echoing what others have said, don’t buy any products that pretend to treat T. they are scams. i paid a lot of money (and, in retrospect, wasted a lot of time) to get this advice from many practitioners, so i share it with you here. 🙂
JBK Jan 11, 2015 at 3:09 am
Thanks for the comment. Gives me more hope to see other people going through the same dilemma and have positive results. Looks like there is hope, after all. 🙂
Muhammad Hamza Sarwar Dec 13, 2014 at 2:49 pm
It was really helpfull .. Thanks for sharing . now i know how to ignore it and how to make it not noticeable thanks again
Chris Jan 6, 2015 at 5:54 pm
Tomaz, Thank you for creating this blog. I belive I have had very mild tinnitus for a long time but in just the last month or two it has gotten much more noticable and it’s causing me to stress out. Sleeping has become difficult the last week or so. I am glad I’ve finally found a place where I can see some positive feedback. I have yet to see an ENT or take any serious steps to try and mitigate the T. I am not sure if I should try some methods on my own or speak with the doctor first. Let me know what you think.
Tomasz Jan 9, 2015 at 1:36 pm
If you’ve had it for a long time, I don’t believe an ENT can do anything, except perhaps checking if your ears aren’t blocked (which can cause tinnitus to increase), or doing a history to exclude things like Meniere’s Disease. Perhaps they can prescribe Xanax, but that’s not a permanent solution. You didn’t say what methods you have in mind.
JBK Jan 9, 2015 at 3:50 pm
You have no idea how much this helped me. Brought me a lot of much needed peace of mind and taught me how to handle the problem in the midst of panic. You’ve helped me so incredibly much. I can’t express how thankful I am that you wrote this and have reached out to help others experiencing the initial shock of tinnitus.
Tomasz Jan 10, 2015 at 12:08 am
Thanks for writing, I appreciate it. Was your experience similar to mine? Is the problem resolved or are you still working on it?
JBK Jan 11, 2015 at 3:05 am
The funny thing about my situation is that I’ve had tinnitus long before I realized it as such. For the last couple of years I can remember occasionally noticing this certain tone in my head that I constantly heard if I listened for it – especially while laying in bed in a quiet room at night. It was a pretty subtle sound but was only loud and noticeable if I thought about it. I just assumed that everyone had this constant noise in their head if they listened hard enough, until a few nights ago when I saw a video about somebody talking about their tinnitus. This made me think of the noise that I’d heard throughout the last several years, and caused me to really start thinking about it. I listened to some common tinnitus tones and realized that tinnitus was exactly what I was hearing. Problem is, now, that the tone stands out because I’ve given it negative attention and attached an emotional response to it. I’ve gotten over the initial shock from the realization that it’s not normal and have been much less on edge now that I hear it so clearly now (like the article mentions – it only becomes noticeable once you start trying to hear it). I have gotten uneasy about it a couple times the last couple of days, but I think I’m finally getting back to the point where I don’t have to worry about it, but I’m now just aware of what it is and that I should be extra careful not to worsen it by being careful not to damage my ears in the future and to not react negatively to the tone when I notice it. I’ve just got to re-train myself to not associate the sound with stress or anything and continue on with my life, just how I have been for the last few years. It’s a very reassuring fact that I have control over how it affects me. Thanks for the reply!
Cherie Wood Jan 10, 2015 at 5:14 am
hi I too have had it for about 2 years from overdosing on Advil believe it or not too many and too short of a time made me sick then the tinnitus I have learned that if I stay away from caffeine and sugar free things and stress sometimes that is very manageable I wear earplugs at church because I don’t do well with loud that aggravates it but I too AM learning to live with it at the beginning it was bad is to cry and ask my brother to pray for me on the phone just to hear his voice to comfort me because I had just lost my husband yep new life but I too agree that it could be worse my husband died from cancer that was worse peace out
Steph Jan 15, 2015 at 10:17 pm
Thank you for this. I developed this war buzzing when I was 17. I used in-ear earphones and accidentally plunged them too hard. Thus, the ending result is me dealing with tinnitus. It’s funny, because prior to that event I have always listened to music at a moderately low level. I am now 21, and always got to sleep around 3/4 am b/c the ringing is so loud. It sucks b/c I used to meditate at night and I went through a bit of depression b/c of tinnitus. Breathing exercises and gingko biloba work. Caffeine is terrible for your ears & stay away from in ear earphones!!
G Jan 28, 2015 at 6:22 am
You sir are a true angel. I feel better just by reading your experiences
nasir Jan 28, 2015 at 6:43 am
Thanks for helpful tips. I developed tinnitus 9 months ago. It has been one hell of a shock ever since
Jones Miller (@Jonesmler) Feb 6, 2015 at 3:51 am
yawning seems to help a little bit. Though I found this video helpful: http://fwrd.pw/Tnnts
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christopher Feb 17, 2015 at 6:20 pm
Good to read some inspiring comments, i have been diagnosed with mild tinnitus recently, its great to read other peoples experiences with tinnitus.
Tony Feb 17, 2015 at 7:37 pm