Overcoming Tinnitus – How I dealt with my Tinnitus

Background:

About 3 years ago I began experiencing a mechanical humming noise in my right ear. The humming was initially evident only at night time. I put this down to a few possible factors (primarily that it was the side-effect of a medication I was taking). I believed it would go away with time. I was probably in denial about the noise, thinking it would go away as quickly as it had appeared. I monitored the noise continually and always noted when I could hear it. Suffice to say, it didn’t go away and in fact, it got worse.

Eventually the humming increased in volume, changed location (left and right ears, middle of head), altered in tone, and increased in duration and ultimately intrusiveness. I also experienced a couple of periods of vertigo and was eventually seen by an ENT Surgeon who sent me for an MRI to rule out Meniere’s disease.

The ENT Surgeon diagnosed me with tinnitus related to ‘hearing’ loss and told me this was part of getting older! I was also advised to go to a tinnitus clinic to see a counsellor and learn how to manage my tinnitus for life – something as a health practitioner I was not ready to accept. At that time I was convinced my tinnitus would go away or could be treated. As such, I set about pursuing other clinical options in order to find another diagnosis and or solution. I also knew that I did not have hearing loss. By this time it was December 2018 and my tinnitus was present all the time and was very loud. Prior to December 2018 my tinnitus was present only about 50% of the time.

After a lot of research, I eventually found a great Audiologist who I shared my story with, including some recent life stressors and a frank and honest discussion about my life. This revealed a number of factors that had likely contributed to my tinnitus. The Audiologist performed another hearing test and confirmed what I already knew, which was that my tinnitus was not a hearing loss issue – it was a neural problem.

The Audiologist discussed a number of cognitive behavioural techniques that she felt would be useful and also suggested I consult the Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist Doctor at the Melbourne Spinal and Sports Medicine Clinic about a couple of physical symptoms, to rule out any anatomical issues that could be contributing to my tinnitus.

Embarking on a Treatment Plan:

After seeing Dr Peter Selvaratnam, Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist for the first time, he concurred with the Audiologist’s diagnosis, as well as the summation of how/why I had likely developed tinnitus. He also offered hope that there could be something done to either alleviate, or in the best case scenario – stop the noise all together. For the first time I felt hopeful about managing this noise that was inside my head.

The Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist prescribed both an in-clinic treatment plan (such as treatment of the temporal region, neck region and acupuncture, dry needling) as well as an at-home plan that I was to undertake. These activities ranged from physical interventions, changes to diet, cognitive activities etc, etc. Initially there were a large number of activities that I was asked to undertake at home..

The at-home activities were always supported by weekly/fortnightly treatment from the Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist, his Senior Consultant Physiotherapist, Sharlene or his Myotherapy colleague, Dominique. By this time I had also developed a number of interventions myself that made living with my tinnitus manageable. These included using a white noise machine at night and ensuring I always had some sort of background noise in place (e.g. central air-conditioning, music, traffic noise etc)..

After embarking on my treatment plan I had a very quick response, with many periods of low hum/noise and as such, I was hopeful that my tinnitus would be eliminated. After a number of weeks into my treatment, I was experiencing periods of low hum up to 50% of the time. This was very positive and I felt buoyed by the results I was obtaining. I did however have a significant number of treatment activities that I was undertaking each day and managing my tinnitus felt like my second job sometimes.

Setbacks:

However, it all came crashing down one weekend when my tinnitus returned to humming 100% of the time and was very loud and intrusive. I had experienced a weekend of feeling unwell, dizzy, back aches, headaches etc. I was devastated and it felt like all our good work had been undone. It was not clear why this had happen. The Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist stated this was often the case with similar patients to me – quick rapid success, followed by regression.

With this set back we simplified my treatment plan, reducing it to half the number of home activities I had been performing previously. However, the period of protracted continual hum persisted for about 2 months, with no improvement. Looking back now, I also had a complete pre-occupation with monitoring the noise, something that is hard not to do, but it was in front of my mind nearly all of the time and probably contributed to the set-back.

I continued with my treatment and never gave up, even when there were many weeks with no improvement. After about the 2 month mark of continual humming following the setback, very small improvements began to occur and I felt hopeful again. By this time I had resigned myself to the fact that I needed to do some extra things to minimise the opportunities where I could hear the humming (e.g. not be in total silence) and try to de-prioritise my tinnitus. This included running a white noise machine all the time in my home and making an effort to keep myself very busy. I also started to experiment with pressure points around my face and ears that (by accident) I found minimised / stopped my tinnitus – rubbing a particular part of my ear lobe/pinna is one such action.

Update:

Most recently the Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist referred me to his senior clinical Physiotherapist and this has brought about another period of rapid improvement in my tinnitus. For the first time in a long time I have experienced long periods where my tinnitus is quite low in volume and I would even say quite manageable. I’m hopeful that this will lead to further improvement. I have continued to make changes that de-prioritise my tinnitus and live with lots of background noise on all the time. I have also stopped checking in and monitoring my tinnitus continually to see if it’s still there. I can now often go for several hours without thinking about it.

What can I share with others?

  • Remain optimistic and realise that there are far worse things that can happen to you
  • Commit to the plan that is prescribed for you
  • Recognise what may trigger your tinnitus (e.g. stress, noises etc)
  • Accept that you may not achieve a cure, a reduction in noise may only be achievable
  • Find ways to de-prioritise the noise and / or manage it
  • Keep busy and interested in other things

What is working for me at the moment?

My current (simple) treatment plan includes:

  • Twice daily neural tapping of my head, orofacial region and neck
  • Mobilising my own earlobe / pinna pressure and rubbing
  • Wheat free diet (e.g. gluten free). Lactose free milk
  • Press studs worn for 3 days, once a week
  • Application of a Neuromuscular Stimulator on prescription to specific regions – once a week
  • Using a ‘sit stand’ desk at work
  • Daily exercises
  • Oral Magnesium (Ultra muscle Eze)
  • Stand up tall, relax shoulders, unclench mouth by separating teeth
  • Journal pesky and persistent thoughts, including writing a daily ‘to do’ and ‘park it’ list
  • Using a white noise app
  • Daily exercise is a good distractor and the chemicals that are released have an impact on the volume of my tinnitus

Written by HA, Melbourne