Tinnitus Patient Finds Treatment to Help Regain Control of Her Life

In December 2008, Nancy C. suddenly awoke in the middle of the night with pain in the right side of her head and a sensation of "ringing" in her ears. At first, Nancy attributed her symptoms to a bad migraine, but after days of feeling no relief, she began to seek help from numerous ear, nose and throat specialists throughout the Baltimore-Metropolitan area. Nancy was eventually referred to UMMC, which helped her regain control of her symptoms. Read her story below.

On December 21, 2008, I awoke at 3:00 am with pain in the right side of my head. My ears were "ringing," and I also experienced what felt like internal quivering throughout my head. At first, I thought the pain was related to some kind of bad migraine, but three days later it still hadn't gone away. I couldn't concentrate and I couldn't sleep.

I first saw an internal medicine doctor in Washington, D.C. She dismissed my symptoms as holiday stress. I insisted I wasn't under any stress, but she wouldn't listen. The quality of my life significantly diminished. I had difficulty concentrating, which had an impact on my ability to do my job as a writer. I was finally given a hearing test and diagnosed with borderline hearing loss (certain high pitched sounds) and tinnitus. I immediately saw a neurologist, who ordered an MRI to rule out possible causes such as a brain tumor, and blood tests to rule out infection. All tests came back normal. That was just the beginning of my search for relief.

In the next few months, still finding it difficult to concentrate on my work, and relax enough to sleep well, I had appointments with several Ear Nose & Throat specialists; none offered help. Reading an article in the Washington Post, I learned that the U.S. Army had a tinnitus group for returning soldiers at Bethesda Naval Hospital. Although I am not in the military, I was able to attend a group session there where I learned the basic theories about the causes of tinnitus and helpful ideas for living with it. I also learned about the Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment device, which was designed to help retrain the brain to habituate to tinnitus.

From that group, I was referred to the University of Maryland Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Program in Baltimore to get the Neuromonics device. I met with an audiologist who educated me further about tinnitus and did a thorough testing of my hearing and tinnitus. She then discussed various devices that might help me find some relief. I chose the Neuromonics device, which plays four different tracks of music, both classical and soothing new age. It was a bit expensive, but I felt it was definitely worth the price if it could help me regain my ability to concentrate.

Using the Neuromonics a few hours each day in my home, I was gradually able to habituate to the tinnitus sound over a period of eight months. There were some ups and downs during that time, depending on what stressors were currently affecting my life (stress definitely makes the tinnitus sound louder), but I immediately felt some relief after using it.

Gradually through the months, I started noticing I was able to concentrate for longer and longer periods of time, writing at my computer without thinking about my tinnitus at all. Every few months I would return and the audiologist would check my device, and ask me about my current experience with tinnitus to see if it was improving. She also would provide helpful tips if I was having any difficulties. By using Neuromonics for a year, my brain began to ignore the tinnitus sound more and more, and focus on the sounds I chose to hear in the world around me. It helped me a lot.

I now think of tinnitus as an annoyance. Of course I wish I didn't have it, but I can concentrate well again, without needing to use the Neuromonics hardly at all anymore. Tinnitus is no longer something I think about most of the time. Although there currently isn't a cure for tinnitus, I whole-heartedly recommend the University of Maryland Tinnitus Program.

Coping with tinnitus is a process, but my life is getting back to normal. I've also gained many things along the way, like new friends, and I have a much stronger sense of helping others in the world. Tinnitus is life-changing, but the worst part is the beginning when you feel frightened and helpless. Once you know where help is, it gets much better. And you can actually gain a stronger sense of who you are and what's important for you to do in your life.

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