Last updated on 20 July 2011
Sarah awoke following a night out with 'ringing' in her ears. She had experienced the ringing before, only this time, it didn't go away...
Compared to many, I know that I haven’t been suffering with tinnitus that long but nevertheless it is still something that I live with on a daily basis and I sometimes wonder if I could’ve prevented it happening.
When did I first ‘get’ tinnitus? Well, I can always remember waking up after a night out, during my late teens-early twenties, and having the ‘ringing’ in my ears. It would last a few hours and then eventually ease and things would return to normal. Then, during the summer of 2003, after a night out, as usual the ringing was there, only this time it didn’t go away.
Two weeks later the ringing was still persistent so I decided to visit my GP, Serc was prescribed, but there was no change. Eventually, I decided that I would like to get the problem looked at and I was referred to a private ENT specialist. After a few tests, I was told that I had Ménière’s Disease (although I had no dizzy symptoms). At that time the tinnitus was more of an annoyance, my hearing, I felt was unaffected and I had no other symptoms.
I began to look at my diet, and was careful about the amount of salt I ate. I also began to cut down on how often I went out to loud places on a night out. I continued to take the Serc as well as water tablets, to ease water retention, as it was thought perhaps that was having an effect. For the next year, my tinnitus remained the same and it just became a part of my life. I took my medication and put up with the bad days when the noise was particularly annoying.
In November 2004, I set off to go travelling to Australia and New Zealand for a year. I decided that I would stop taking the Serc as it would be difficult to get hold of while overseas. During the year away something changed. I started to experience dizzy spells, these would generally occur when I was particularly tired. As we were working on diary farms, this was quite often. The dizzy spells would always be accompanied with an increase in the noise level of the tinnitus, they would last no more than 20 -30 seconds but would drain me completely. As the year away progressed, the tinnitus began to take a back seat as the worry of having another dizzy attack became the larger issue.
We arrived back in the UK in November 2005 and things went quiet (literally!) for a few months. I applied for and was accepted on the PGCE Primary course at my local university and while waiting for September 2006 to roll around I got a part-time job in an office and then in a local restaurant. I took the view of denial about both the tinnitus and the dizzy spells, struggling through situations and worrying about telling people in-case it somehow counted against me. However, this all came to a head when carrying a cup of coffee and turning so quickly that I ended up on the floor. I returned to the GP and was placed back on Serc, as well as Buccal to take whenever a dizzy spell decided to strike. I was also placed on the waiting list for tests at the local ENT clinic.
My social life that summer was almost non-existent. I began to spend a lot of time at home, if I went out to a restaurant, pub or club I wouldn’t be able to stay more than a hour before the noise just became too much. I now know that this was hypercusis, and that by avoiding situations involving noise I was just making my hearing more sensitive, when I did go somewhere with an increased noise level. Even talking one on one with people became difficult and I relied heavily on the people I was with, who understood the situation, to explain conversations to me.
Training to be a teacher on a PGCE course is quite stressful as your training is compressed into 10 months. During this time you spend three blocks of time out in schools on teaching practice. I realise now that stress had an effect on my tinnitus. My first two teaching practices were extremely difficult as my tinnitus increased and my hearing decreased, to the point of almost being deaf (subtitles to watch television were a necessity). Of course, my stress and worry was made worse by me trying to hide my problem. I was so concerned that I wouldn’t be able to complete my training that I tried to hide the problem, when I should have talked to my colleagues.
My initial ENT appoint occurred at this time, and was an upsetting experience as tests revealed that my hearing of lower tones in both ears was well below average. Hearing aids were provided, but vanity and denial prevented me from wearing them outside of my house. Contrary to medical opinion, I felt that my tinnitus was a barrier getting in the way of me being able to hear properly, rather than a sign of deafness. I was convinced that if I could learn to live with the tinnitus and listen through it, then my hearing would improve.
In March 2007 I attended the BTA Young Persons Weekend, in York. The weekend was a turning point for me. The weekend gave me the opportunity to talk to others who could relate to what I was going through and gain some valuable advice. I returned from the weekend recognising that I needed to readjust my perception of what was happening and how to deal with it.
Eventually, I realised that being more open with people and explaining rather than trying to avoid the issue was what I had to do. As soon as I had taken that small first step, things became easier. People were extremely understanding and patient with me. Amazingly, many people had friends or family who also suffered with tinnitus, and recognised many of the situations I had been dealing with. I even took the opportunity to raise children’s awareness of the damage they could be doing to their ears by using the BTA lesson plans to teach my class about hearing and tinnitus as part of their Science lessons.
Touch wood, since May 2007 I have not had a dizzy spell and have not been as badly affected by the tinnitus. My hearing has improved both in my opinion and proved with more tests at the ENT clinic, so hearing aids at this moment in time have been forgotten.
I thoroughly believe that my acceptance of the tinnitus and the change in how I cope with the problem has been the first step towards getting my hearing back. The tinnitus is still there, I can hear it, but it is no longer an issue, I have learnt to live with it and ignore it, rather than focus on it and create a bigger problem.
I have learnt to live with it and ignore it