An invisible sound playing in your ears for the rest of your life…
A high squealing noise or a low grumbling grating sound. Playing as a soundtrack over everything else you ever hear: in the silence before you go to sleep, when you’re listening to music or trying to hear someone talk. Have you heard of it?
Tinnitus is a condition where sufferers hear a constant sound in their ears that no one else can hear, often a high-pitched whistle. It sounds like a horror story, and it can be. Tinnitus can come from a few places. For young people, the biggest risk is acoustic trauma: exposure to a loud noise which damages the inner hearing mechanisms of the ear. This can come from consistently playing loud music through headphones or even just going to a single concert. Most tinnitus from concerts goes away after 16 to 48 hours, you might have experienced this yourself.
Many many people have tinnitus, including celebrities like Dave Grohl, Sylvester Stallone and William Shatner.
My tinnitus arrived that way, with loud noise and no volume control. When I was 11 or 12, I was given an iPod to listen to on long drives. I downloaded a playlist of twelve tracks and listened to them on repeat for hours and hours at a time. This went on for years, as I expanded my music taste the music got louder and had more screams in it. I would always walk to school and back if I could, all the way with headphones on.
I can pinpoint when I noticed it. Sitting in my maths class and staring into space, two weeks before the start of GCSEs. I had found a favourite song the night before called Lithium, by Nirvana, and I couldn’t stop replaying it. It was the best thing I’d ever heard as a 16 year old kid and for full impact it just had to be turned up. I played it over and over that night and again in the morning when I was walking to school. At first, I thought I was imagining the noise but when I got to the end of the day and it was still there, I knew it was permanent.
Sounds Like You?
There are solutions. You can train your brain into ignoring the sound, desensitise yourself to tinnitus over time. Therapies for anxiety such as CBT can also work to help you with your emotional welfare and mental health. A 2018 study found that sufferers of tinnitus more commonly suffer mental health conditions alongside the hearing impairment. Some tinnitus even originates from mental health problems and can go away when stress is removed.
The NHS website suggests joining a support group and that discussing the condition’s effect on your life with others should help. It also says that keeping good sleep hygiene and avoiding caffeine before bedtime will lessen the effects of your tinnitus overall. Getting good sleep and sticking to a routine is the key to keeping calm, reducing stress and lessening your anxiety around the tinnitus overall.
The best solution by far is to avoid tinnitus by managing the sound levels around you. Limit how often you listen to music through headphones, use ear defenders where necessary be responsible around loud noise.
For general podcasts on mental health and improving it, check out the Sprout’s recommendations.