My battle with tinnitus

Tinnitus sucks. It really does. I recently posted a comment on my Facebook page that said “For anyone suffering from tinnitus, there is hope.” I received several comments that asked for more information and several private messages asking for the same. I figured I would write it up on my blog to reach a wider audience since I had no idea that so many people suffered from this affliction.

About two years ago I noticed the usual symptoms that we are all familiar with – the annoying ringing that has come and gone most of my adult life. This time it did not go away. At first, it a was mildly irritating inconvenience, mostly noticeable at quiet times. Then it became an ever-present beast that haunts my sleep. Literally. I already suffer from insomnia and the constant ringing in my ears makes it even harder for me to sleep. To compensate, I sleep with a large fan beside the bed to drown out the ringing. During the day, when I work from home, I must have the television on for background noise. When I go to work, I put on headphones and listen to music. This is the only relief I get. Constant noise and no quiet time.

Well, in December of 2012, I was suffering from typical South Texas allergies (those of you in the area know exactly what I am talking about) and decided to see my ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist, Dr. Daniel Fleming who had previously done surgery to correct my deviated septum and treated me for allergies. While seeing him, I told him about the ringing in my ears and he gave me a hearing test and suggested I try Lipo-Flavonoid, an over the counter supplement developed by ENT years ago. Dr. Fleming suggested I try the supplement for 30 days and see him in a month. He also scheduled me for an MRI because in some cases, a brain tumor can cause tinnitus.

When I saw Dr. Fleming in mid-January, he conducted another hearing test and asked if the supplement had helped. It hadn’t. He told me the results of the MRI were negative for a tumor and he thought the tinnitus might be a symptom of my allergies and gave me a steroid shot to see if that would help. I was scheduled for another appointment in February as a follow-up and an appointment for allergy testing in March. I was unable to see Dr. Fleming for my February appointment but met with his PA who conducted another hearing test and asked me if my tinnitus had improved. I told her it had not and she suggested I wait until my follow-up with Dr. Fleming about the results of my allergy tests in March for treatment but would schedule me for an appointment with one of the resident audiologists for further testing. The PA also prepped me for the possibility of hearing aids (!!). I knew that tinnitus is caused by hearing loss but in all of my conversations with Dr. Fleming, he said my hearing was very good for my age so I was quite surprised to hear (no pun intended) that I might need hearing aids.

I completed my allergy testing in early March and saw Dr. Fleming on Tuesday. He approved me for allergy shots/drops (go the drop route if given a choice and you can afford it) and saw the audiologist, Dr. Bledsoe, yesterday. The first thing she said after meeting me was that she had reviewed my earlier hearing tests and my chart and determined that I did not need hearing aids. That immediately put me at ease. She then had me fill out a questionnaire and asked me questions about my answers. She gave me more hearing tests and she reviewed my results. She told me there was hope but that it wasn’t covered by insurance. She let me try on a device made by a company out of Pennsylvania. It was about the size of an iPod and had headphones attached. When she hit the play button, I could hear some very pleasant classical music. As we continued to talk, she told me more about the device and how it functions. As a science nerd, I found the information fascinating. Towards the end of our conversation she asked me if I still heard the ringing and I was surprised that I could not hear it. I had finally experienced some relief!

The device, called the Oasis is made by a company based in Pennsylvania. From their website:

A small, lightweight Oasis™ device with headphones delivers spectrally modified, precisely designed music embedded with an acoustic neural stimulus. These sounds, customized for each user’s audiological and tinnitus profile, stimulate the auditory pathway to promote neural plastic changes. Over time, new connections train the brain to filter out tinnitus disturbance, providing long-term relief from symptoms.

I told Dr. Bledsoe that I would be willing to pay any price to get some relief. That price for the Oasis device is $5,000. Looks like I will be selling a kidney for the treatment but it will be worth it. I will update as treatment starts. In case you are curious, my tinnitus rings in at 10kHZ and sounds like this.