For people suffering from chronic tinnitus the condition can seriously impact their lives
DURHAM — While it’s considered a common symptom to a many number of problems, little is known about tinnitus despite 42 per cent of Canadians reporting they have it, according to Statistics Canada.
Tinnitus is classified as a continuous ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming or even roaring in the ears. It has many causes, including injury to the head or ears, infection, blockage, hearing loss and the use of certain medications.
Irene Nicholaou, an audiologist at The Hearing Room in Oshawa, says tinnitus is very common.
“Usually, when you have tinnitus, it’s caused by hearing loss,” says Nicholaou. “Even a normal hearing person, if you put them in a quiet room, they’ll hear some form of tinnitus.”
Craig Robertson, 52, is a longtime musician and professor of radio broadcasting at Durham College in Oshawa. He is also an on-air radio host for 105.9 The Region.
He says he began experiencing tinnitus 10 years ago and it has only gotten worse over time.
“Being a musician and working at a radio station, I’ve lost a lot of my hearing,” says Robertson. “It didn’t bother me much back then. Now, it’s become chronic.”
Robertson says he experiences multiple sounds, but primarily hears a high-pitched “squeaking” and occasionally experiences “spikes” prompted by noise.
As a part of his diagnosis, Robertson was fitted for a hearing aid. Hearing aids are often used to help patients cope with tinnitus by amplifying other sounds and drowning it out.
However, Robertson says for now, it isn’t necessary.
“It’s not to the point where I need a hearing aid,” he says. “It’s also really expensive.”
Aly Beach, 22, is a student at the University Institute of Technology (Ontario Tech University). She lost significant hearing in her childhood due to severe inner-ear damage caused by multiple ear infections.
She now requires a hearing aid and says she has struggled with tinnitus ever since she was a child.
“I didn’t know life without the annoying ringing in my ears,” says Beach.
While hearing aids can “help distract” Beach, she says she still hears ringing and “unintelligible whispers,” which she describes as her brain “trying to make sense of other noises.”
“It’s worse when it’s quiet, it sometimes keeps me up at night,” she says. “You learn to live with the ringing because you don’t know any different.”
Beach says she feels she “doesn’t think there is enough research” into tinnitus and while some may think her affliction is simply annoying, she insists it “affects your quality of life.”
According to Statistics Canada, approximately one in five people reported their tinnitus was severe enough that it impacted their sleep, concentration, or mood.
Nicholaou says there is no “pill” for a cure but there are options for treatment, such as habituation therapy, which helps patients mentally deal with the sound and learn to tune it out.
“(Tinnitus) is caused by damage to the hair cells in the ear and we haven’t learned how to regenerate those yet,” says Nicholaou. “Habituation can help eliminate those strong reactions.”
For Robertson, he says he wants more people to become aware of tinnitus so it can not only be avoided, but so that those who have it don’t feel alone.
“The one thing that needs to be spoken about is how to cope more because it’s incurable,” says Robertson. “I’m happy to tell the world about this.”