No End to the Record

At night-time, it loves the limelight, gobbling it up with glee. The more I focus on it, the more layers of noise I discover.

To mark the end of Tinnitus Week, I am sharing a post I wrote nearly two years ago. At the time, I was struggling to sleep due to my tinnitus. One night, when I was feeling particularly frustrated from lack of sleep and at my failed attempts to ignore the unwanted sounds, I decided instead, to give my attention to my tinnitus and really focus on the types of noises I could hear. I hoped that if I could make peace with the different elements of my tinnitus, I could learn to accept its intrusion on my life and start to manage it more successively. 

The more I listened, the more diverse the sounds became. I started to make notes of what I could hear, which culminated in this blog post:

“I Know a Song That’ll Get on Your Nerves, Get on Your Nerves, Get on Your Nerves…”

Have you ever had a song stuck in your head? – An unwanted earworm that keeps playing over and over? A catchy piece of music that continually repeats through your mind, long after it has finished playing? This is similar to how I would describe my tinnitus. But instead of the notion of the song, there is actual ‘noise’, and the music never stops playing. There is no end to the record.

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of noise or ringing in the ears or head. The noise is not from an external source and can manifest itself in many forms. The varying sounds have been described as whistling, whirring, clicking, screeching, hissing, ringing, buzzing, pulsing, whooshing, or even musical. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition such as hearing loss, ear injury or circulation problems. From the moment I lost the hearing in my left ear, I simultaneously gained these unwanted sounds. My life became noisier.

My tinnitus feeds off salt and sugar, caffeine and alcohol, and feasts on a lack of sleep. Exposure to loud noise makes my tinnitus worse; giving it energy, enabling it to accelerate or become louder, and more prominent. Sometimes it is so loud that it is difficult to hear or concentrate on ‘real’ sounds. Sometimes it steals my attention from conversation. My tinnitus seems to be related to the pressure I feel in my ears and head. Louder or faster tinnitus means more pressure, sometimes culminating in a pain that feels like the inside of my ear is being stretched to full capacity; to the point of something bursting.

For some people, their tinnitus comes and goes, and for others, it is constant, chronic and persistent. Mine is ever-present. It will often fade into the background of my days; everyday noises will usually mask it, forcing it away from my attention. Yet, there is the cruelty of finding a peaceful moment or going for a walk in the countryside, and realizing the tinnitus has no ‘real’ background noise to overcome. It bounds into the foreground, onto the stage for full attention.

At night-time, there are no ‘real’ sounds to mask it. At night-time, it loves the limelight; gobbling it up with glee. The more I focus on it, the more layers of noise I discover. The foundation layer is the sensation of being underwater. I am under the sea, swimming deeper and deeper; water whooshing past my ears. With more focus, electronic-sounding agonized moans begin to emerge. A violin enters the stage; playing a continuous high-pitched and out of tune note that wavers painfully up and down in tone. The sound of an old copper kettle materializes, boiling with the shrill continuous whistle; demanding to be taken off the heat. Occasionally there is a piercing spark of noise; like the sound you’d expect your finger to make if you were turning something magically to ice. Sometimes the moans sound like melancholy singing. A penetrating fog horn begins to sound. A burst of crackling radio static joins the chorus, as the knob of an analogue-radio is turned; seeking out a resonating frequency and occasionally skipping past the notion of a word or a piece of music.  I make pictures with my mind. I form images around the sounds. The more I focus, the more elaborate the scenes become. Wailing prisoners bound and shackled, all in a row, somewhere in the distance. Someone is trying to scream but is not able to make the desired sound, just a sharp continuous squeal. There is someone drying their hair in another room…

… When I stop feeding it my attention, it’s back to swimming underwater.

My tinnitus is like being in an argument I don’t want to be part of. I am engaged in a duel I didn’t sign up for. At times it can be torture. I am always fighting. I stay busy. I take my mind off it. I surround myself with everyday sounds.

I find myself observing people on the street, on the Metro, in bars, restaurants and parks. I wonder whether they too have these unwanted noises. Are they too trying to ignore the record that won’t stop playing?

I choose to ignore my tinnitus with as little effort as possible. Since the more effort used, the more attention it receives, and then it starts to win the battle. It’s a paradox I must fight. I wish for the noises to stop. I dream of relishing a quiet moment, but I can’t remember silence.

Please Sign the Petition for More Tinnitus Research!

Give People With Tinnitus the Hope for a Cure!

This week is Tinnitus Week.

One in eight people in the UK has tinnitus and for some, the condition can be completely life-changing. Studies have found that people with tinnitus score significantly higher on the depression and anxiety scale and lower on self-esteem and well-being.

Here I am, talking about the effects tinnitus has on my life:

The British Tinnitus Association are focussing heavily on the importance of moving forward with tinnitus research to ultimately find a cure. They have launched a petition pushing for the government to commit more funding to tinnitus research. 

To show your support, please sign the petition for more research into finding a cure!

It’s so important to so many people: http://chng.it/HSMDM8Gv

You can also help reach more people by sharing this post and encouraging others to sign up too. Let’s make a real difference this #TinnitusWeek!

Thank you!

 

Working Together to Find a Cure for Tinnitus

British Tinnitus Association Manifesto Roundtables 2020, kindly hosted by Sir John Hayes MP. 

A discussion by Carly Sygrove, creator of the My Hearing Loss Story blog, and advocate for people with hearing loss and tinnitus. 

Tinnitus affects one in eight people in the UK, yet there is currently no cure.

My own tinnitus story began three and a half years ago when I experienced sudden hearing loss in my left ear. The moment I lost my hearing, I simultaneously gained the unwelcome whooshing and ringing sounds of tinnitus.

Following my hearing loss, I started to write a blog in order to share my experience of living without full sound and with other associated issues, including tinnitus. Through my blog, I have connected with people from all over the world whose lives have been affected by hearing loss and related symptoms. Tinnitus is one of the most common reasons why people contact me to seek support. Living with such an intrusive, yet invisible condition can be extremely difficult, and for some it is debilitating.

Although there are management techniques and devices that can mask the noises of tinnitus, there is nothing that can actually eliminate it. Knowing you have a condition for which there is no cure can be a tremendous mental weight to bear.

Tinnitus Research: How Can We Move Forward to Find a Cure for Tinnitus?

As part of the preparations for Tinnitus Week (3rd-9th February 2020), I was invited by the British Tinnitus Association (BTA) to attend a roundtable event at the House of Commons.

I would be representing people with tinnitus and joining researchers, other people with tinnitus, politicians, public health institutions and research funders, to discuss how we can progress the search for a tinnitus cure.

The Roundtable Event – House of Commons, Thursday 16th January 2020

Tinnitus roundtable

The event consisted of guests at two parallel tables, discussing how to move forward with tinnitus research.

Bringing together participants from a wide spectrum of backgrounds and specialisms encouraged an active and productive discussion. There was a focus on both the technical aspects of developing a cure and the personal opinions of those who are living with the condition.

The Technical Aspects of Finding a Cure

Although the participants in the discussion at our table were from a variety of backgrounds and with different associations with tinnitus, we all agreed that a tinnitus cure means silence.

Listening to the views and priorities of those involved in research, I learnt so much about the technical challenges of finding a cure. There are a number of issues which can impede the progress of research, and

there are matters to be considered before progressing studies further. Some of the topics discussed are outlined below:

  • The Importance of Research Into the Subtyping of Tinnitus

There isn’t just one type of tinnitus, in fact, there are many different forms of the condition.

Tinnitus may occur as a consequence of excessive noise exposure or be caused by disorders which affect the brain’s auditory function. Some types are related to the sensory system and others are a result of muscle contractions. There are also subtypes of the condition such as musical and pulsatile tinnitus. More focus needs to be placed on further identification of tinnitus subtypes in order to facilitate more targeted research. 

Co-founder of Tinnitus Rooms support group, Louise Hatch stated, “We need funding and research into subtypes of tinnitus – it needs serious attention in its own right.”

  • Difficulty Measuring the Effects of Tinnitus

Currently, there is no objective way to diagnose or measure the effects of tinnitus.

The effects of tinnitus are subjective and hence hard to measure. For some people, the symptoms of tinnitus may not affect their daily lives and others it can have a huge impact. This doesn’t necessarily mean however, that one patient’s tinnitus is more severe. Some people are able to manage tinnitus more successfully than others.

The severity of tinnitus for patients may also fluctuate due to other factors, such as tiredness, weather changes and mindset. Since the effects of tinnitus are hard to measure, it is difficult to compare results in studies and for this reason, efforts to make advancements towards finding a cure are hindered.

  • The Pursuit of Identifying Biomarkers for Tinnitus

At present, a biomarker for tinnitus has not yet been determined.

A tinnitus biomarker is a characteristic identified in blood or the body that provides a measurable indicator of the presence of the condition.

The presence of a biomarker would be physiological evidence that a patient has tinnitus. If researchers are able to understand the mechanism of tinnitus, then they will be able to measure changes or progression of the condition, and the effectiveness of treatments can be evaluated objectively.

  • The Need for a Tinnitus Database

Dr Charles Large (CEO, Autifony Therapeutics), highlighted the benefits of creating a national tinnitus database with regards to moving forward with research:

“Absence of a UK-wide register of tinnitus means patients are being missed. Research trials would be the first to benefit but more importantly, it would benefit the whole tinnitus community.”

  • The Nature of a Cure

It is not yet known what form a cure will take. Tinnitus researcher, Dr Will Sedley, explained that to find a cure, researchers need to understand every level of interaction between the brain and ear, with regards to the condition. They need to discover a way to teach the brain to distinguish between real sounds and tinnitus and to filter out the latter.

The cure could take the form of a pharmaceutical drug or perhaps a further-developed type of sound-based therapy. We just don’t know yet.

  • More Tinnitus Awareness Amongst the Medical Community

Dr Will Sedley stressed the need to make tinnitus a more attractive area of research to medical students. He stated that “This is one of the most unsolved medical problems”, yet he doesn’t remember tinnitus ever being mentioned in medical school, or any question referring to it in exams.

  • Where to Allocate Funding?

If the government provides more funding to tinnitus research, it will need to be decided where the money will be allocated.

Tinnitus is not an illness in itself but rather is a symptom of a pre-existing condition, such as hearing loss, stress, inner ear disorders or migraine. Since there are various potential causes of tinnitus, do we put money into restricted tinnitus research or use it to fund other groups of research with a focus on illnesses where tinnitus may occur as a consequence?

By funding other areas of research, there is a possibility that a cure for tinnitus could be found as a result of curing an underlying condition.

What People With Tinnitus Want to See

Before the event, I spoke to some of my blog contacts, and for an opinion, much closer to home, I also contacted my dad, whose life has recently become affected by tinnitus.

Detailed below are some of the hopes people who are living with tinnitus have for future research, which largely coincide with the opinions of those at the event, who work within the area of tinnitus support:

  • More Support From GPs

A large number of my contacts expressed a desire for more help from the medical community for people with the condition. Some, including my dad, had experienced discouraging consultations with their doctors and were simply told to “get used to it”. Many people hadn’t been offered advice or support on how to manage tinnitus nor had they been referred to sources of emotional support. Perhaps successful guidance from GPs begins with specific tinnitus-management training?

During the discussion, Megan Gill (Tinnitus Hub support forum representative) emphasised how “Patients want to be heard and have a voice in research.” She spoke about the desire patients have to be listened to, and to be part of the journey of rehabilitation and eventually a cure.

  • Tinnitus Awareness and the Effect on Mental Health

Megan stressed the need for more awareness of the potential impact of tinnitus on mental health.

According to a survey carried out by Tinnitus Hub, 64% of tinnitus patients reported that the condition had caused them mental health issues, with stress, anxiety and depression being the most prevalent.

On this theme, a large number of my contacts emphasised the importance of having the hope of a future cure.

Of course, whilst a cure does not currently exist, acceptance of the condition is key in moving forward and it is important for those affected to find a way of managing their symptoms to improve their quality of life. Yet, the reassurance that researchers are working to find a cure, can give those affected a level of mental comfort.

More awareness of the interrelation between tinnitus and mental health issues could have a positive effect on fundraising efforts and more researchers may be likely to embrace the challenge of finding a cure.

  • Prevention Measures

Speaking as a voice for musicians and DJs, Anne Savage highlighted the importance of promoting tinnitus prevention measures. As a Plug’em ambassador, Anne is passionate about reducing the stigma of wearing earplugs to protect hearing in environments with potentially dangerous volume levels such as gigs, festivals and clubs. In the discussion, it was suggested that perhaps there is a need for more strict decibel restrictions in the UK.

As a former teacher, I wonder whether this is something that needs to be addressed in schools, starting with a focus on volume levels in the classroom?

  • My Thoughts

Personally, I hope for more international interest in tinnitus research. I feel that this is a worldwide condition which needs a worldwide solution. I’d love to see collaboration between research institutions around the world where key focus areas of study are agreed. 

Surely, creating strong communication links in the research community and sharing outcomes and discoveries, could help drive research forward with more dynamism and impact.

Moving Forward Towards “a World Where No One Suffers From Tinnitus”

To summarise, the main priorities from the discussion were as follows: 

  • Create a UK tinnitus registry
  • Focus research on identifying biomarkers for tinnitus
  • Raise awareness of the effect of tinnitus on mental health
  • Promote prevention measures, e.g. more strict decibel restrictions in the UK

The British Tinnitus Association will combine the recommendations from both discussions and present them to government ministers in order to move forward the search for a tinnitus cure. 

The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock, has already taken an interest in raising the profile of tinnitus research on the political agenda. “I am very happy to look specifically at the case for increased research funding into tinnitus and to work with [Sir John Hayes] on it,” he responded, following the roundtable event.

It was an honour to take part in such a lively and positive discussion. I feel that bringing this level of awareness to tinnitus is a very positive step towards finding a cure. And, for me, I have a little more hope that I will one day be able to enjoy silence again.

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