It wasn’t until Natalie, 39, went to see an audiologist last year that she realised she’d had tinnitus since she was a child. She’s sought relief from hearing aids, which have worked wonders for her confidence.
“I was first diagnosed with tinnitus and moderate hearing loss last year. I’m a teacher and I suddenly found I couldn’t hear my students properly in lessons and was missing vital information in meetings. I was constantly asking people to repeat themselves, which made me more and more anxious, and that’s when this high-pitched whistling noise started to kick in.
I was convinced I had a serious illness and sought help from my GP, who said she thought it sounded like tinnitus – something I’d never even heard of before. She referred me for tests where the audiologist played me several sounds and eventually we came to the conclusion that I’d probably had tinnitus all of my life, without even realising it. As crazy as it sounds, I simply didn’t know that silence didn’t sound like whistling and whirring and that night time wasn’t normally filled with screeches and tremors.
Doctors have discovered that part of my eardrum doesn’t connect properly with a bone in my ear. I was born this way, and it’s potentially the cause of my hearing loss and tinnitus – although they can’t say for sure. When they broke the news last year, I was relieved to discover there was a reason that I’d always struggled to concentrate, and endured many years of broken sleep, but I was anxious when I realised that there wouldn’t be a ‘quick fix’, especially for the tinnitus, and that it wasn’t going away by itself.
I felt so isolated. It was so difficult trying to explain to people what tinnitus was and that it wasn’t just something I could ‘stop’ hearing. And the more stressed I became, the louder the tinnitus was. For a while I stopped going out with my friends and avoided busy or noisy places because I was embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t hear properly and my tinnitus would become too intense to bear.
I threw myself into research about coping strategies and eventually joined some social media pages dedicated to people with tinnitus and hearing loss, including Action on Hearing Loss. Finally, I felt I was speaking to people who understood exactly how I felt and it really helped to quell my anxiety.
I tried sound therapy, which had some effect and also tinnitus blockers, which were useful. But recently I’ve been fitted with a hearing aid to help to amplify surrounding sounds and confuse my brain into not hearing tinnitus noises. I know this doesn’t work for everyone, but it has made a huge difference to me, as I rarely hear tinnitus sounds now during the day. I still haven’t managed to block out the tinnitus at night, but now that my brain isn’t working so hard during the day, it isn’t so bad if I lose some sleep. I use a sound oasis that I bought from Action on Hearing Loss – that helps a lot.
I still struggle, mostly in social situations, but I try to stay as positive as I can. I’ve always loved to dance and since being fitted with a hearing aid, I’ve gained enough confidence to go along to tap-dancing classes, which has worked wonders for my confidence.
I’m very careful now to preserve the hearing I have and always use bone conduction headphones instead of earphones if I’m listening to music. Tinnitus is a constant battle, but there are ways of managing it and help is out there if you look for it.”