Most people don’t think of tinnitus as causing a disability, but our featured person this week does.
The National Institutes of Health describes tinnitus as “the medical term for ‘hearing’ noises in your ears when there is no outside source of the sounds. The noises you hear can be soft or loud. They may sound like ringing, blowing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, humming, whistling or sizzling.”
“Steve” isn’t his real name. His experience with tinnitus began as a “hissing” sound in his left ear on a 2008 airplane flight and later that year ratcheted up a notch following a noisy wedding reception.
“Then it really got bad in 2010 while I was out driving a tractor,” said 60-year-old Steve, a farmer. “I woke up the next morning to a loud hissing noise. It was so bad I had to see a tinnitus doctor in (a nearby city). I had to have relief. It was driving me crazy. The doctor there injected something into my ear, but that didn’t help.”
Since then, he has tried everything imaginable to stop it. Because of the hiss, he often experiences periods of depression, can’t concentrate performing work tasks, and becomes irritable. One night, the hissing sound in his ears became so loud and annoying he had strong suicidal thoughts. So he checked into a suicide crisis center.
He said, “Obviously, I didn’t follow through on the suicidal thoughts, but I did think seriously about it. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life with that loud noise in my head.”
In desperation, he visited a well-known tinnitus clinic in Memphis, Tennessee, and also Mayo Clinic. There and at other places doctors used drugs, lasers, and ear and neck injections without results. No treatment offered more than 24 hours of hiss-free relief. Believing the loud hiss possibly could be psychological, he spent $300 an hour on a mental health professional specializing in tinnitus.
He said, “It’s highly annoying. I bet I’ve spent $20,000 of my own money (seeking relief) the last several years and who knows how much through insurance.”
Steve chats on Internet forums with other people experiencing tinnitus. They share information about helpful drugs and treatments. His number one priority right now in life is finding a cure.
He said, “Some days it never goes away and on those days my only break is sleep.”