This sucks. It’s one of those problems that has gone from intermittent to nearly-constant. There’s really nothing to be done about it. I ask my doctor every few years, just in case. But no, there is no cure. There’s not even much to do about tinnitus. When at home or in the car, I mask it by playing music. At school, our students are generally noisy enough to drown it out.

My tinnitus is usually a high-pitched squeal, about 14-17 kHz, like a mosquito that whines for long periods, seemingly next to my left ear. The whine gets louder or softer, but rarely goes away. When it does, it returns with a sudden *pop*, as though someone turned on a radio. Once in a great while it’s stereophonic buzzing static in both ears, or even a fluttering sensation like a butterfly stuck on my left ear, but those are pretty rare. I know that I’m not just hearing actual machinery because I’ve heard it when standing surrounded by hectares of prairie, without a single operating machine in sight or earshot.

The good news is that I have no reduction in my general hearing. The problem did make itself known after I’d been working in noisy labs for several months. Well, I thought they were noisy labs. One had 15 computer CPUs set atop the tables, the poster-size printer, and the ranks of fluorescent lights. The other where I spent even more time had a wind tunnel, HID (High-Intensity Discharge) & fluorescent lights, three computers, steam-heat radiators, and a couple of incubators.

The others working in the latter lab didn’t think it was loud, but after a couple years of sharing the space I learned that none of the three could hear all of the high frequencies that I could; one guy outright said he had some hearing loss at high tones. The others asserted they could hear fine because they had passed hearing exams. However, the average hearing exam only tests in the 250 – 8,000 Hz (8 kHz) range, which are of interest to audiologists because those are the tones for human speech. Because human hearing should go up to 20 kHz, a person can pass a hearing exam and yet still not have full range of hearing. Even so, one has to be around noises that are 80 dB or louder to sustain hearing damage, the labs weren’t that noisy, and I don’t have hearing loss.

My world just sounds like I’m always around noisy machinery of some sort, as though my head’s parked next to an aging hard drive. (Insert polysyllabic expletive of choice here.)

The down side is that sometimes the extra “background noise” aggravates my comprehension of what people are saying, in addition to the auditory processing issues. I wear a bite-block at night, which is great for preventing TMJ headaches, but sadly does nothing one way or t’other about the tinnitus. Because of the migraines and such, my head’s been CT-scanned and MRI’d a couple of times, and the radiologists say it looks normal. (Presumably on the gross physical level, howsoever my brain actually operates.) No one really knows what causes the problem.

Tinnitus is hard to describe to people who are not familiar with the condition. “I hear things that aren’t there,” only earns one suspicious sideways glances. The other week I finally came up with an analogy that adequately described the obnoxious qualities, if not the actual tone:

“It’s like having private reception to the cicada-radio channel:
All cicadas, all the time!

Mostly what one can do about tinnitus is to simply accept that it’s there, that it’s probably gonna stay being there. In addition to masking the imaginary noise with more pleasant, real noise, the best one can do is to re-frame one’s attitude. I mean, you gotta find a way of becoming habituated and dealing with it. Otherwise it’s annoying as hell, and could drive you nutz or make you depressed.

I’ve a mythical beastie
What lives by my ear,
A cicada-mosquito.
You can’t hear it, so have no fear.

But the hell of tinnitus is,
I just can’t get rid
Of this noisy chimera,
So I’ve named my companion, Syd.

(Tinnitus not only isn’t glamorous, it also makes for mediocre poetry.)


  1. Josh said,

    4 March 2008 at 20:59

    Ray, just following up. Any improvement over time since your last post? The same exact thing has happened to me. -Josh

  2. Ray said,

    1 September 2007 at 23:50

    Sorry to hear about your T. I have had it since Nov 2006 after 3 weeks of listening to a meditation tape called Holosync which had binaural beats in it. It wasn’t loud in any way but I believe it has changed the way my brain picks up noise. I have done a lot of research on this and have found a lot of other people with the same problem from using these discs. My T is a very high pitched to and after trying just about every thing including zinc, homeopathics etc nothing has worked. I have read many forums on T and have found many interesting stories where the T just disapears as qiuck as it came after a few years so fingers crossed. I have kind of gotton used to mine well I try to anyway. It’s like living next to a noisy road after time you just filter out the noise and not reconise it any more. There are sometimes I almost get my self into a panic attack because all I want to hear is silence. Hope you are getting used to it or even better it is getting better :-)
    Cheers Ray

  3. 26 August 2007 at 18:31


    I like McGonagle …. :S

  4. Sally said,

    26 August 2007 at 17:02

    There is a blogging poet who posts almost daily, and who is always worth reading.

  5. qw88nb88 said,

    26 August 2007 at 0:19

    ROTFL! Thanks, Owen. And yes, even I recognise that Syd is a creaky bit of verse. The thing of it is, I CAN write decent poetry, which you can give opinion to: Plaint of the Aspie. But Syd turned out to be one of those things that just refused to be clobbered into decent form. And so it goes.

  6. OwenKL said,

    26 August 2007 at 0:12

    William McGonagall (1825-1902), reputed to be the worst poet ever in the English language (and quite possibly any other language, too). Though I must admit your own poesy does give him a run for his money!

  7. qw88nb88 said,

    25 August 2007 at 23:16

    McGonagle? Sorry, the reference is lost on me.

  8. Sally said,

    25 August 2007 at 23:05

    Snap !
    See my post ‘Daily Witterings’ – I have recently found an article that suggests that Meniere’s Syndrome (not Meniere’s disease as no hearing loss – ‘just’ tinnitus, imbalance, etc) may afterall be connected to/caused by autoimmune disease. Your scientific mind may see it more clearly:
    I hope the link works. I would be interested in your view of it.

  9. 25 August 2007 at 21:12

    “(Tinnitus not only isn’t glamorous, it also makes for mediocre poetry.)”


    Us Scots have wondered for ages about McGonagle!

  10. qw88nb88 said,

    25 August 2007 at 15:43

    Ask your dentist about a bite guard to wear at night, especially if your child has TMJ or grinds their teeth (bruxism). There are different styles, and since children’s jaws keep growing, your kid will probably have the size checked at every six-month checkup. If you have seen an ENT about TMJ or related issues, they can also refer you to a dentist who does this kind of work. (I think most do, but you probably want one who does it regularly.)

  11. mcewen said,

    25 August 2007 at 14:18

    I wonder if you can get those gum/bite guards for children? Dentist or pediatrician? Hey and the poem worked for me too!

  12. Ed said,

    25 August 2007 at 10:11

    Hey, I really liked the poem!

    My mother has always been partially deaf. Her difficulties have to do with tones. She’s tone deaf but she also has the ability to hear certain voices and yet not others that to me seem really soft. It just has something to do with the tones.

    She’s 72 now and wears hearing aids in both ears and can’t hear at all without them. It’s getting so that she really can’t hear with them either. She’s got closed caption on her T.V. and she’s learning ASL. I plan to learn it also.

    I hope you can get help for this tinnitus. It doesn’t sound fun or glamorous. NIH hospital once tried expermental surgery with my mom by taking a bone out of her arm and putting it in one ear. It didn’t work but it’s facinating what they can do these days. Thanks for this post.

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