I hate it! Tinnitus and acute trauma sucks! Save your ears. Public Service Announcement!
This is the second time I have had acute trauma, first it was my right ear now the left. The first time it took a month to mostly recover then a year to really get back to normal. Luckily it did. Hoping it doesn't last that long this time. I have work to do and this makes it very uncomfortable.
Man, hang in there!
I've had tinnitus for over 20 years as I was a drummer growing up. It was rarely an issue (would only hear it at night if it was quiet) until I had a spike two years ago, and then another spike this summer. Both spikes led to me having some really bad anxiety and really disrupting my quality of life. Not sleeping, not eating, not able to focus, etc. And in both cases, the tinnitus drastically improved after a few months.
The biggest thing I learned is that tinnitus is very treatable
, that it can and will get better
, and that you need to take care of yourself
to see those improvements.
When you first encounter a tinnitus spike, you need to realize it's very highly (possibly entirely) related to your fight or flight system. Human hearing evolved primarily as a safety mechanism (to hear threats), so when you hear something and you can't attribute it to something specific, your brain thinks "hey here's a threat!". That kicks in the body's fight or flight system, which in turn heightens your senses, making you hear the tinnitus even louder. And that is a nasty cycle that you can get stuck in.
The way out of it is to calm the body as much as possible through whatever means necessary
. I am prone to generalized anxiety (not acute panic attacks), so that's something I need to treat. I saw a doctor and was prescribed anti-anxiety/anti-depressants and those helped A TON to get me out of the cycle. Also, some OTC stuff to help with sleep was useful; I would take a Benadryl when it was really bad. When I had the spike two years ago, guided meditation really helped. This time around, the medication was more useful, along with waiting for things to improve.
As for the acoustic trauma (which is what caused my spike this summer), I saw multiple ENT's and audiologists, and they all agreed that it can take weeks, months, even up to a year for that trauma to improve. It may not get 100% resolved, and you can definitely have tinnitus without hearing loss. I tested with excellent hearing both times, and no real change. But don't worry if you go on Google and read that anything lasting longer than a few days (or weeks) is permanent.
And even if you have "permanent" tinnitus, even if it's really loud at first, your brain can adjust to it
! This is called habituation
and it can take days, weeks, months, sometimes years. The experts have run studies and showed that over 98% of tinnitus suffers eventually habituate to it
. And the ones that do not habituate usually need to treat the underlying anxiety or other health issues.
Two years ago after my spike, which was stress induced, after a few months I could wear noise canceling headphones in a quiet room and not even hear the tinnitus. This time around, I am much more aware of the tinnitus even with standard closed back headphones. It's possible the ringing volume is louder, or that my brain is more aware of it right now. But it continues to improve, and I'm hopeful that I'll get back to the near-silence levels again.
Some of the changes I made this time around...I no longer use noise canceling over ear headphones for several hours per day. I used to do work calls using headsets but now I use a speakerphone so I can hear the ambient noise of my house. That helps my brain to continue to habituate and not call attention to the tinnitus. I used to use closed back headphones for playing guitar 99% of the time, and now I'm using studio monitors at least 75% of the time, and open back headphones when I need to be quieter.
There's a handful of very good resources if you're struggling with tinnitus. Look up "Julian Cowan Hill" on YouTube...he's a tinnitus expert who's really chill and zen and reassuring. He actually has an iOS app called "Quieten" that was really helpful for me those first couple months of my latest spike. The videos are very reassuring and have helpful advice, plus there's a ton of positive success stories. Another good one is "Joey Remenyi" who has some positive interviews/testimonials on YouTube as well. She sells a really expensive course for vertigo and tinnitus that she pushes a lot, but the positive interviews are still helpful. Another good video is Dr. Bruce Hubbard, if you search for cognitive behavioral therapy for tinnitus, he has a free nearly two hour video on the subject.
Beyond that, there's some good apps for guided meditation which can help. Insight Timer has a lot of free meditations without a subscription. Others are Waking Up, Headspace, some on YouTube as well.
Like I said, if you suffer from tinnitus, hang in there. You can work through the spikes and get back to a high quality of life. It may take time but find some ways to soothe yourself until your brain starts to adjust, and then you'll start to get some relief.