Tinnitus considerations (date: 2000):             (For links see bottom page).


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Let me introduce myself: I'm a retired (as of Sept. 2000, age 61) electronics engineer and I play the jazz piano in two bands. Because of my back ground I have a fair bit of experience in audio recording. I built a small recording studio (approx. 15 m2) in my home where we recorded our first CD with the main-stream Jazz combo called the "Jazzica Swing Combo." A small problem which regularly, if not always, annoys me is my tinnitus. I can hear high pitched whistle-like sounds inside my head (around 10 KHz. and 12 KHz. and sometimes 3 KHz). Since some people who suffer from tinnitus become quite desperate, I'd like to share my experiences with you and in so doing, hopefully lift your spirits a bit.

Having been a technician, I always tend to analyze things and of course, I tried to do just that with my own tinnitus. Since now I know that people experience tinnitus in hundreds of different ways, your experience may of course, be quite different than mine. However, it is my hope to discover the experiences we have in common as it might help all of us understand our tinnitus a little better. Should anything in particular == ring a bell ==, or whether perhaps you disagree, or if you can relate any other experiences, please let me know by E-mail.  

How did it start?

In ' 97 my wife and I signed up for a course in meditation (TM). During class we had to be as quiet as possible and try to completely dismiss our thoughts. To help clear thoughts out of our minds we had to continuously repeat some stupid meaningless mantra-like word. After each session we had to describe what we experienced to each other. One of the things we noticed was that all of us could hear the various noises originating from town. The types of noises which are always present, like a train, the traffic, the police and ambulance sirens etc. - the sounds you normally do not notice consciously. Your hearing threshold becomes noticeable lower.  

During the third class, in addition to all the town's noises, I started to hear a high pitched whistle. I wondered, despite the fact we were told not to think, where the hell does this whistling sound come from? Nobody else seemed to hear it. After classes I could still hear that darn whistle. I could still hear it even after we'd left the building, even in the damn car on the drive home. From that moment on, I knew I was in trouble. That night it was almost impossible to get to sleep and I started hearing humming noises to boot. Many, many virtually sleepless nights followed.

I mentioned this fact to our instructor in the next class, but according to him he had never heard of any such phenomena, although much later someone else told me that it seemed to happen regularly that people end up with tinnitus as a result of TM sessions. Whether that's true or not, I don't know. But to me it doesn't seem not impossible so let me know if you've had a similar experience. Of course, in theory it is quite simple: the tinnitus was already present, only I had never noticed it before. Like the way you are normally not aware of all the sounds from town, or from nature, birds, the wind, the sounds that are always present inside your home and anywhere on this planet etc. People in soundproof booths (artificially made to be the only silent place on earth) start to hear their blood rushing and their heart beating. Your hearing threshold diminishes as it becomes quieter and you start hearing things you normally cannot hear. Yet, your perception can become also very selective, and you can hear even a very faint sound in a very noisy surrounding when you concentrate on that particular sound. On tinnitus sounds though, you immediately and totally concentrate since this is a threatening experience over which you have no control, and it might become so loud that it really starts to drive you crazy.

Let me put your mind at ease though: a lot of objective research has proven that it does NOT become louder. The experience by people who say it does become louder is purely subjective. This is because they are so obsessed with their tinnitus that they don't hear anything else anymore.

Where did my humming noises come from?

It took a while before I figured out that the humming noises I  heard while in my bed did not originate from within myself. One hum came from the central heating pump. It didn't take me long to figure that one out because sometimes it is switched off. The second hum took me several weeks before I discovered it was caused by a small transformer that was mounted underneath my bed. The bed can be moved in different positions by low voltage electric motors. The low voltage transformer is always switched on. Your hearing is not sensitive to the direction of low frequency sounds. Very low frequencies sounds (50 Hz. or 60 Hz.) are conducted through your skull so you cannot cover your ears and expect not to hear them. It took a while before it dawned on me to simply pull the plug.

Hint: make sure that your humming noises don't originate from any appliance you might have in your own house. Switch off the main breaker switch and listen again. Remember: just about any device that plugs in produces a hum. Even the hydro meter itself, and they all do so at different frequencies. The basic frequency is 50 Hz. (60 in North America) and its harmonics  100 (120) and 150 (180) Hz. As well, regular 440 Hz. pulses transmitted over the main lines (at least in The Netherlands) are used to trigger various devices like street lights, hydro meters etc. The 440 Hz. tone can sometimes be heard very loudly through any device connected to the main power lines. 

What frequencies do I hear?

Of course, I started to analyze what tinnitus frequencies I could hear. Since I had a frequency generator and a set of headphones, it was not too difficult. The dominant tinnitus tones were 12 KHz. and 10 KHz., which meant I was deaf at those frequencies. Since my hearing is quite good in general, I found that with the head phones I could properly hear the higher tones (13 KHz.), the in-between tones (11 KHz.) and the lower tones (9 KHz.) - frequencies other then my two tinnitus frequencies sounds that are present all the time. I hear the tinnitus sounds in both ears, in other words, in the center of my head. Occasionally I notice a 3 KHz. tone, which is mostly in one ear. However, the 10 and 12 KHz. tones are always present, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What influences the subjective loudness?

At the onset of tinnitus, when it troubled me a lot because I acutely focused on it, I noticed several things:

Much has been written around masking tinnitus by means of adding noise with the help of a hearing aid. I don't believe in these methods. For me it would probably have an adverse effect. Besides, I've read in several places that this only seemed to help for a short time, since after a while you start to notice your own sounds again in spite of the added noise. Additionally, who'd want to wear hearing aids feeding you with noises in your head?

What does work for me? A nice hot shower - when that specific sound is all around me I cannot hear my tinnitus. So, if one should decide whether to wear a masking-type hearing aid, that is the sound that ought to be recorded. But, to me, hearing shower sounds all day long wouldn't seem to be quite where it's at either.

What about music? It appears to depend on the kind of music I listen to. music with a monotone drummer on a cymbal seem to aggravate my tinnitus. When the music is complex, the many various notes and sounds appear to mask my tinnitus. High pitched noise-like sounds seem to stimulate my tinnitus. Also, the noise of fans in computers, or similar devices, stimulates my tinnitus very strongly.  When I move my computer farther away, underneath the table if possible, with some kind of added sound screening, then my tinnitus is a lot less. 

What are the theories behind tinnitus?

Generally, it is assumed that hearing damage is one of the causes of tinnitus. If your hearing is damaged, or becomes damaged, you will become more deaf. But hearing loss and tinnitus are two different things: tinnitus will not cause hearing loss and hearing loss will not cause tinnitus. Hearing damage might be the result of regular, or prolonged exposure to sound levels of 80 dB. or more. This does not necessarily mean that you will experience these damaging effects in the form of hearing loss. Most people will not notice diminished hearing capacity at certain frequencies. Since you have two ears, the one might make up for what the other cannot hear. Checking your hearing does not guarantee proper results since mostly only a limited number out of a wide range of available frequencies, will be tested. You can easily suffer from tinnitus as a result of hearing damage while medically speaking, your hearing is quite all right.

Your hearing is one of the organs that diminishes throughout your life time and does not regenerate whatsoever.  For each small frequency band you have a corresponding hair cell in the so called cochlea. These hair cells, of which you have thousands, keep each other standing upright like the stalks in a corn field. Too strong a sound will blow them down and some might brake off. This causes permanent missing frequency ranges and you may end up with a flat spot in your corn field. Some hair cells remain standing without the support of others because every hair cell acts as a sensor in an oscillating type of circuit. They also receive signals from the brain and since the dampening of that hair cell is less due to the missing neighboring hairs cells, they might start to almost oscillate. It's like the microphone in a sound system that feeds back into the loudspeaker and almost oscillates. If you talk into a microphone like that, you can hear additional amplification of the nearly oscillating frequency when it reaches peak levels. This is why the tinnitus volume increases when there is more ambient noise and why it decreases when there is less ambient noise. Masking is therefore quite difficult since it ought to produce sound that does not trigger your tinnitus, yet at the same time divert your attention to the point where you do not hear the tinnitus anymore (i.e. the shower sound).

It should be clear that the older one gets, the more hearing damage one accumulates. Nowadays it is becoming worse due to the absurdly high sound levels used all over in the music business and too many young people already suffer from tinnitus. However, people seem to turn a "deaf ear" to the warnings in news papers, TV programs etc.

How many people suffer from tinnitus?

No idea. There are many people who have tinnitus but have not yet noticed it. Perhaps everybody has tinnitus, I think at times. How so? Various research projects clearly show different results. I have seen numbers range from 1 to 20% of the population. First of all, everybody will suffer hearing damage during their life. But not everybody complains about tinnitus. Yet when I think about it, I had my tinnitus already for years before I noticed it and started suffering from it. Why? I'd heard the whistling many times before when I really thought about it, for years, if not decades. I always thought it to be something coming from some external source. At the electronics lab I assumed it was the equipment that generated this whistle. This was quite logical because it was a known fact that 30 some years ago already, the high voltage generators and oscilloscopes generated a whistle like the a TV does. Hearing this sound meant you still have good hearing. However, since the last 15 or year or so, the frequencies of the switching devices in scopes slowly crept up and exceeded 100 KHz. where you absolutely cannot hear them anymore. In spite of that, I always heard them, but they didn't bother me. While sitting behind my computer, I always thought the hard drive, or the fans, were whistling. In my car I thought the same thing (sometimes it was actually true). Since there are so many devices that produce noises no matter where you are, your unconscious mind can always come up with some external sound source and there is no reason to worry. Since the actual volume level of tinnitus is always quite low, it is very easy not to notice it at all. You just don't expect to have an internal sound. I asked my colleagues a few simple questions and they confirmed that most of them could hear the non-existent whistling at the lab and also from their computers. A simple test with a microphone and a spectrum analyzer showed me that only white noise was generated by all these devices while none of them produced any whistling. All of my colleagues also had tinnitus in my opinion, except they didn't know and if you don't know about it, it does not trouble you.

Here's a true story: one of my neighbors was repeatedly asked to help track down some sounds inside another neighbor's house until eventually the both of them ended up with tinnitus. All this simply because the neighbor tried to listen for a sound that wasn't there and she started to also hear it. As it turned out, it ended up with neighbors at each other's throat.

To prevent any misunderstandings: in this document I only talk about "subjective tinnitus" experiences and not the sporadic cases of truly measurable noises, or "objective tinnitus," caused by disorders in blood circulation etc.

What is the relationship between deafness and tinnitus?

As mentioned before, when one grows older the hearing will be more and more damaged. A second aspect is that your hearing capacity diminishes anyhow when you grow older. The external sound will become less and one may become more susceptible to internal sounds and the chance of perceiving tinnitus increases. People sometimes incorrectly assume that it's easy to go deaf if you suffer from tinnitus. Much research has proven that this kind of relationship is NOT present; if you suffer from tinnitus, it does not relate to deafness now, or in future. These are independent matters. If measured objectively (measuring the masking sound levels), the sound level of your tinnitus will not become louder. Subjectively you might experience that it becomes louder if you don't know how to deal with it. So it is mainly up to you how you tackle your tinnitus.

How long is tinnitus known and what can be done?

Tinnitus is as old as mankind. Hippocrates in 460 B.C. already investigated it. Van Gogh, the Dutch artist, cut off an ear because he thought it would get rid of his problem. It seems to drive some people quite crazy. Some even try suicide. It appears to be also a special disease for especially gifted people. This of course, is true for the tinnitus sufferers who read this story. But since now you know all of this, you don't need to suffer as much anymore. So live with it like I, and millions of others, do. It is not worth it to spoil your life by driving yourself crazy with this tinnitus problem. Try to forget about it and to get on with other more important matters. The more you get involved in other things, the less you suffer from your tinnitus. You may even get to the point where you think, "hey my tinnitus is gone." I sometimes experience many days or even weeks, when I'm on vacation, that I completely forget my tinnitus. I will probably not totally forget about it easily because I'm writing this story and by staying interested in this matter as a special phenomenon. As well, your E-mails will remind me about it, but it does not really bother me all the time. 

On the internet you can find a lot of information about this topic, but when you carefully read between the lines you will understand that there is no direct or actual cure available. Research has shown that no single therapy or cure has been discovered that systematically helps. Everything helps and nothing helps, one cannot point to a cure or therapy which has a measurable results. You should not spent all of your money on specialists and the like.

I myself had the following experiences. Shortly after the start of my tinnitus I had to stay in hospital due to a completely torn foot ligament. While I was lying in my hospital bed, bored and with nothing else to do, my tinnitus drove me crazy. Since I had to stay in the hospital anyhow, I made an appointment with the hospital's Ear Nose and Throat specialist (ENT). He was a "matter of fact type". After some tests he said "your hearing is completely fine, you probably have tinnitus. It is a pity, but you have to live with it." End of story. After leaving the hospital, the first thing I did was to see some professor (technical) who could really tell me everything about how the hearing works and also about several of things he knew about tinnitus. This made things a lot clearer. My next move was to attend a lecture on tinnitus (God had scheduled one for me near my home town). There I came in contact with a whole bunch of tinnitus sufferers, for whom a special meeting was organized to share their experiences. At this lecture I also found out about 2 books, which I immediately bought and read. The next thing was the internet. This gave me the most information, especially the most important information for me: tinnitus is not the start of hearing loss, or future deafness. This had been my greatest fear and it [the fear] was gone now.

Then something funny happened. I went to the "AZU" in Amsterdam, a university hospital featuring our country's finest specialists. I called to make an appointment. Of course, in The Netherlands this is not possible. No, you first need a referral from an ENT. My next question to the receptionists at the AZU was: "when I've got the referral from my ENT, how long will it take to get an appointment?" "Oh," Sir she said, "the minimum waiting list is one year." I'm startled and ask, "but in the book about tinnitus published by your own university it states that a reasonable chance for success to get cured is if you start with treatment (i.e. the oxygen treatment) within 3 months?" "Sorry Sir, it is a pity but there are too many people with tinnitus, and by the way, how long have you suffered from tinnitus Sir?" "About 6 months," I replied. "Then there's no use for you to make an appointment anyhow" she says. "Yes, but you also state in the book that one should always try to do all possible treatments and that the results at your university appear to be very good," I still try weakly. "Oh, Sir forget it, as far as I can tell, nothing helps whatsoever anyway." Thus, the comment from the receptionist who books the appointments for the ENT department at the AZU. I started to look around on the internet again and came to the same conclusion.

The best thing to do is to concentrate on your work, your hobbies or similar things and regard your tinnitus as a good old friend. Sometimes you have a little quarrel with him, but that's all part of the deal. Naturally, this is purely a personal experience and it is advice that may not be proper for you. However, if you have any other, or similar experiences, I'd be delighted to hear them.

Literature and internet addresses:

Since the growing number of people who suffer from tinnitus it is also a "booming-business", so be warned!

Literature (Dutch, sorry I don't know the English literature, if you know, mail me):

Leven met oorsuizen: Dr. Franz-Josef Ganz ISBN 90 384 0335 6 (1992)
Oorsuizingen: Dr.M.Markus/A.Hoffmann ISBN 90 6030 569 8 (1997)

Internationale tinnitus web adressen:
Coping With Tinnitus
Oregon University Tinnitus Site
FAQ Tinnitus Site
Dr.Nagler's Tinnitus Site
Spirituele approch Tinnitus complaints
American Tinnitus Association
HearUSA Tinnitus Questions and Answers
Californisch Tinnitus Centrum
German Tinnitus-Liga
German Tinnitus Site 2
German Tinnitus Site 3
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
British Tinnitus org.uk 

Dutch web adresses:
Antwoord op hoorzaken en Tinnitus vragen
Tinnitus loket nederland
NVVS.nl Tinnitus mogelijke oorzaken

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