May 2021

cicada noiseREADER COMMENTARY, THE BALTIMORE SUN

I love cicadas. As a former beekeeper, I appreciate their red eyes, their wings, their patience, and their familiar sound. Their song is familiar to me because I have tinnitus. Often described as a ringing in the ears, it can manifest itself with other sounds as well. Some people experience shrieking, buzzing, humming, electric wire sounds or clicking noises. It can vary from very loud to barely noticeable, all in the same day. According to the National Centre of Health Statistics studies, an estimated 32% of people living in the United States suffer from this incurable condition. Causes vary from listening to loud music to exposure to military combat, explosions or machine noise. It is often, but not always, accompanied by hearing loss.

I did none of those things and I have very little hearing loss. My tinnitus may have been caused by a viral infection accompanied by vertigo six years ago. The vertigo resolved but the tinnitus stayed. When you are first diagnosed with tinnitus, there is a panic reaction. You cannot wrap your mind around the fact that you may have this condition permanently. People spend money on various “cures.” Many offer no relief at all.

But there are ways to cope. Stress is a big factor. The more you worry about it and talk about it, the louder it gets. The American Tinnitus Foundation promotes various methods that might work for some people including hearing aids, wearing earphones with masking sounds, TMJ treatment, stress reduction and habituation.

Habituation and stress reduction are the best method I have found to manage my tinnitus. To oversimplify, it means staying calm and learning not to view the sound as a threat. In this way, it becomes part of your normal auditory sensations. Just like you don’t focus on the sound of your refrigerator, it becomes a non-threatening background noise. This, however, does not diminish the pain of those who have tinnitus so loud that they have a great deal of difficulty sleeping, listening to television, carrying on a conversation or living a normal life.

People with tinnitus do not always like to talk about it because it brings it to the forefront. But there are many of us out here. And if you want to empathise, go on out and immerse yourself in the cicada song.

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