During the summer of 2012, I found myself abnormally fatigued. I attributed this to long hours at a new, high-stress job. Thankfully, one positive aspect of my position in graphic design was being able to listen to music all day at my desk while wearing headphones. One afternoon in early July, while enjoying some of my favorite tunes, I heard a barely audible, but distinct, ringing in my right ear. I immediately changed the song I was listening to, yet the noise remained. I exited the application for my music service. The ringing continued. I was startled by this and ripped the headphones out of my ears. The sound continued.
I went to my doctor that evening assuming I had an ear infection. In a dramatic turn of events, I was subsequently told my kidneys were failing and diagnosed with Alport syndrome. I began dialysis the same day.
What is Tinnitus?
The ringing in my ear(s) which I still have to this day, is known as tinnitus, a condition suffered by nearly 45 million Americans. According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus (correctly pronounced ti-NIGHT-us or TINN-a-tus) is “the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present.” In my instance, a ringing noise persists in both ears 24/7 with varying ranges in volume and intensity. Other patients may experience buzzing, clicking or other types of noise. The word itself originates from the Latin tinnire, meaning “to ring.”
Tinnitus is not a disease in and of itself but rather a symptom of another underlying condition, predominantly hearing loss, such as that common to Alport syndrome patients.
Ringing in the ears can have varying effects on patients. Some people are mildly annoyed by it, while others can experience extreme stress, sleep loss, poor concentration or even more crippling side effects.
Audiologists have various methods of measuring tinnitus and while there is no scientifically-validated cure, certain treatments (such as hearing aids and behavior therapies) are available.
In my experience, adequate sleep (7+ hours a night) helps regulate the noise to an acceptably noticeable level. Getting less than five hours of sleep will leave me ringing like a bell in the morning when I wake up.
If you suffer from tinnitus, don’t feel alone! Around 15% of the US population experiences this condition, including many celebrities and musicians such as William Shatner, David Letterman, Barbara Streisand, Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton, Ryan Adams and Phil Collins.
You can learn more about tinnitus at the following resource:
American Tinnitus Association