Update from a Music Maker After 9 Months of Persistent — But Now Mild — Tinnitus

Discussion in 'Success Stories' started by douglas_charles, Jul 23, 2021.

    1. douglas_charles

      douglas_charles Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      10/26/20
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unkown
      Hi Everyone :)

      I made a promise to myself that after nine months or so of experiencing consistent tinnitus, I would post on this forum to share my experience thus far. So many of the success stories on this site gave me so much hope when I was in the depths of despair over my tinnitus in the beginning. I can’t thank everyone enough who’s involved with this forum and community, as well as anyone who has had the courage to share their story.

      I came upon “Tinnitus Talk” after reading “Rewiring Tinnitus: How I Finally Found Relief From The Ringing In My Ears” by Glenn Schweitzer. That book was very helpful and informative, and set a positive tone for what I knew was going to be a journey that I could learn to control despite how often I felt hopeless, depressed, and stressed about my consistent tinnitus.

      I work in the music industry, and have been actively playing guitar and producing music since I was 15 years old. I’m now 39, with a lifetime of loud noise behind me. Since doing music as a career, I’ve tried my best to always be mindful of my hearing. This has involved consistently wearing ear plugs while in rehearsals and playing gigs, using in-ear monitors at a modest level while performing, and also being mindful of my overall health. I’m also an avid concert goer on top of all that, and would always wear some sort of hearing protection while in the audience. Despite all these efforts, I would still end up with some sort of ringing in my ears after a concert or gig that would routinely go away after a night’s sleep.

      Last year at the start of the pandemic, I started to notice that after using headphones while working on music for 30 minutes or so at a very modest volume that I would have a consistent ringing in both of my ears for about 5-10 minutes. This caused me to minimize my time with headphones, often times setting a timer for 20 minutes or less and also wearing earplugs underneath my headphones while working. I would also take ear breaks after working in the studio for an hour or so, and went to bed each night feeling as if I was doing everything right.

      On Monday, October 26th of 2020, I woke up with a very loud ringing in my ears that has stayed persistent in some way shape or form since then. I do not have noticeable hearing loss, and have not experienced any hearing damage due to loud noise exposure. I was even told by my ENT that I had “excellent hearing.” Despite this supposed “good news,” I was still completely stressed out about my situation and routinely felt hopeless to the point of tears daily. It felt as if my entire life and love of music was coming to an end at a time when my career and creative fluidity could not have been better. I felt robbed of everything I’ve worked for in my life, and left to confront an uncertain future that I was certain for all of my life was gonna involve enjoying and creating music until the day I died.

      The remainder of 2020 was the worst of it. I wore earplugs all the time, paced around my house very confused and stressed for hours at a time, and resorted to taking time off from making music to lean into my home life. I changed my eating habits, exercised as often as I could, and detached myself from the studio for a short time to wrap my mind around what I could do about my tinnitus experience. After learning that I had a good friend in the industry who also experienced tinnitus, on top of talking about it with the people I work with, I found a lot of inner peace about my situation which led to me to noticing my tinnitus less and less. I also found an app for my iPhone called “Calmer” that has a white noise generator that I would put on while I slept. This really, really helped and I still use it today.

      It’s hard to say what caused the volume on my tinnitus to turn up to such a persistent volume. I had an MRI done, saw the aforementioned ENT, and tried everything I could to find out what was causing my tinnitus. The best explanation I got was from an allergist, who had mentioned that it’s not uncommon for tinnitus to flare up after a round of antibiotics. Before my tinnitus started, I was on about 100 pills over the course of a month to help relieve an onset of cellulitis I had developed from a bug bite. My best guess is that I was experiencing tinnitus at a very low volume, habituated to the point of barely noticing it at all, and then the antibiotics mixed with the stress of the modern world cranked up the volume. That’s my best guess.

      I also changed how I worked in my studio by making to sure to monitor my volume at all times and never working over 80 dB unless it was completely necessary. I take several breaks a day, often wearing earplugs when I go on walks to give myself an “ear break.” I got some BOSE noise-cancelling headphones which I use to talk on the phone at a very, very low volume. Whenever I’m using headphones in the studio to track anything I always wear earplugs underneath. I take ZERO risks in the studio and admittedly feel the music I make has benefitted from all of that self care. The feedback I get is often very positive regarding my mixes and productions, and 90% of the time while in the studio I don’t notice my tinnitus at all. I am very, very lucky and am committed to a lifetime of taking care of my hearing to preserve what I have and to continue finding purpose in the art that I create.

      I don’t experience “spikes” in my tinnitus often, but when I do I notice that it’s related to stress, lack of sleep, or consumption of alcohol I have also found that after a year of daily meditation and a better diet that my tinnitus is very, very quiet and truly a “non issue” in its inability to affect the aspects of my life that I was fearful it might. I have grown more and more comfortable talking about my tinnitus, and in doing so have learned that many people around me also experience it. It’s an unfortunate circumstance that I’ve worked hard to minimize its effect on my psyche, and I’m happy to report that I’m in a spot where I feel very much in control and my musical career has not only continued, but flourished in the time that I’ve started experiencing tinnitus. I have also stopped drinking alcohol, as I found that drinking leads to my tinnitus getting much louder some how. I took a few months off of coffee, but didn't really experience an improvement in my tinnitus so I went back to drinking it daily.

      It’s my hope that with time, science will come around to prioritizing proper and consistent relief for those experiencing tinnitus. I also feel that tinnitus is often an indicator of extreme, exacerbated stress and I encourage anyone who is experiencing tinnitus to begin a self care journey ASAP to keep it from getting worse. We may never see a cure in our lifetime, but I do think that with the proper tools and mindset it can be controlled and managed.

      To everyone out there that took the time to read this, thank you for your time and I wish all of you the best in your journey to find relief from whatever type of tinnitus is bothering you. My journey has led me to making several changes in my life that I really feel I have benefitted from both personally and professionally, and it’s my hope that all of you out there find the relief you’re searching for. Maybe you’ll even find some new, better habits along the way that just may improve your life after all :)

      - Douglas
       
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    2. ALS
      Alone

      ALS Member

      Location:
      USA
      Tinnitus Since:
      04/2021 ; worsened 6/2021
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Years of headphone use (too long and too loud)
      This is wonderful to hear. I'm so happy for you.
       
    3. Uklawyer

      Uklawyer Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      03/2020
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Medication - antidepressants
      That's great news @douglas_charles!

      Is there any specific type of meditation you practise? Would you say that has been a key factor in your recovery?
       
    4. DimLeb

      DimLeb Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      14/03/2021
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Idiopathic Cochleopathy Or Maybe Loud Music
      @douglas_charles, very glad things are working out so well for you! Being a music producer myself, I sympathise with your story so much. I'm wondering how you measure the sound level in your studio? Do you have a specific meter? And how's your schedule about taking breaks?

      I myself am on a break from all music for over a month since my tinnitus got worse for 7 days, but now it's subsided to very mild (almost non-issue). Still, I'm so afraid of getting into music making and sound design again, even though I don't think mine spikes with sounds or even caused by noise in the first place (as one ENT told me)...

      Mostly it's the uncertainty that comes with it... What sounds are safe, what are not, how compromised are the ears, do they heal, do they not... For anyone at the beginning of this journey, and especially for musicians, all these questions are torturing.

      Thanks for sharing your story, really gives hope!
       
    5. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      douglas_charles

      douglas_charles Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      10/26/20
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unkown
      @ALS - That's very nice of you to say. I still have hope that one day the ringing will go away completely, but in the meantime I'm committed to making sure it never gets worse. Feels like the best path to hope I've been able to think of.
       
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    6. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      douglas_charles

      douglas_charles Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      10/26/20
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unkown
      @Uklawyer - I really appreciate your response and kind words.
      I started using the "Waking Up" app on my iPhone last April. It costs $100 a year, but I know they offer free trials and even free memberships if that's out of anyone's budget.

      I do a 20 minute guided meditation every day, and since starting have logged 356 Mindful Days, 7.4k Mindful Minutes, and 432 total sessions. I rarely miss a day but occasionally do when I have to travel or get caught up in some sort of family related emergency.

      I feel very lucky in that I started meditating before my current tinnitus journey started, and prior to that I had about a decade of yoga practice behind me. I say that because the process of looking inward, and consistently taking time for myself, was already in my routine somewhat and a daily meditation practice was the next logical step. Especially during the pandemic!
      I think it certainly helped that I already had this in my routine, as when I was seeking help with my tinnitus so many resources pointed towards consistent meditation. At first I would start wearing earplugs while I was meditating as a way to habituate myself into not noticing the ringing, and over time I switched over to using my BOSE headphones at a very low volume.

      I can recall meditation really helping alleviating a spike in my tinnitus one time late last year. I was on the phone with an artist I've been working with for over a decade, and our relationship has had a lot of peaks and valleys. He wasn't saying anything particularly hurtful, but somehow in our conversation my mind got very caught up in whatever "emotional baggage" existed in our relationship and that led to a very loud ringing in my left ear.

      Once the ringing started, I put earplugs in and sat in silence until the spike subsided. This took about 15 minutes.
       
    7. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      douglas_charles

      douglas_charles Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      10/26/20
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unkown
      @DimLeb - I really appreciate that! It was a terrifying experience in the beginning that I sort of had to stumble my way into figuring out what I could and couldn't do.
      I use an app on my iPhone called "Decibel X." There's a free version that comes with a ton of adds, and after tax it's $5.32/month. I've found it to be well worth it, and just as good as any fancy dB metering device I've come across.

      After 9 months, I've developed a decent sense of when I think noise levels are getting to a questionable volume. My studio is very, very dead with lots of treatment. I'm very grateful for that because it's easy for me to keep things quiet and at a level where I feel I can hear music the way I can think it's going to translate in the outside world.

      I used to work in another studio where the room was much bigger, and with much higher ceilings. As a result, it was very hard to work in that studio at a low volume that wasn't damaging over time.
      I've tried every which way to develop some sort of schedule, and I've yet to stick to one specific flow of working and taking breaks. I try to not work for more than an hour without taking some sort of "ear break." Those breaks usually include wearing my Etymonic earplugs, which cut down dB levels by 13 dB and fit nicely in my ear canal. I try to get in about 10,000 steps a day, and my studio is in a residential area, so it's relatively safe to walk around with ear plugs in and get in exercise while also giving my ears a break.

      I want to point out that this sort of flow came from my own ritualistic trial and error, and it doesn't mean that when I come back to work that my tinnitus is any better or worse. I'm simply doing what I think is best, and hoping I'm doing it correctly. As I mentioned in my initial post, I take ZERO chances and even when working below any sort of harmful levels I make myself take breaks to both keep my body mobile and also to give my ears a rest. So far my tinnitus has gotten better, not worse, which is all I care about.
      I can relate to what you're saying, completely! What sucks is that there aren't really any answers out there to your questions in an obvious way. And when you tell your ENT (or any sort of medical practitioner) that you do music, they more or less tell you "good luck" and that experiencing some sort of hearing damage is part of the "occupational hazard" of your career and life choices. It's super frustrating, but I think the more we share these stories and experiences with each other, the better we can manage it.

      I use live drums and guitar amps in my studio, and those are the usual culprits for damaging dB levels. While my guitar amp is another room when I'm tracking and only 7 watts, it's still very loud. I now have a set up where I use some sound baffles, and some cinder blocks, to absorb any unwanted frequencies from traveling from one room to another. I have found this has really helped.

      Regarding live drums, I wear both earplugs and headphones made by Vic Firth which gives me a total of 38 dB's of reduction. Again, I take ZERO chances and even with all of that protection I limit my exposure to the drums to short intervals.

      Best of luck, and feel free to respond as much as you need for any further encouragement from my own experience.
       
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    8. DimLeb

      DimLeb Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      14/03/2021
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Idiopathic Cochleopathy Or Maybe Loud Music
      @douglas_charles, thanks for sharing these info! Solid advice. Unfortunately I'm on Android and haven't found such a reliable dB meter yet, so I kinda use 2-3 apps and compare their results. And again unfortunately, I don't have a real treated studio, just the minimum producing setup (audio interface, monitors etc). But anyway, wish I could put room treatment, but can't due to space restrictions...

      You are so right about ENT doctors... At least 2 ENT doctors told me it's certainly from working with music, and "you will be fine", without even doing a high frequency audiogram. Well, I got a lot better after a week or so, but I doubt they all had any clue about it all. On top that, a neuro-otologist told me it's from genetic reasons plus some sudden increase in head pressure (due to stress, for example) and it would happen even without music/noise. Go figure.

      Also, you should really be careful about live drums even with protection, since they can easily output peaks of 100 dB. Maybe try using samples/loops more, so you don't have to go through recording as much. But what do I know... One can never be sure, other than following a strict schedule and good protection!

      I really wish a solid medical solution comes out soon!
       
    9. John C.

      John C. Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      5.28.2021
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Gunshots
      Douglas,

      Thank you for sharing your story of hope. I am also a musician and had to immediately change from wedge monitors to IEM’s - literally within a week of developing tinnitus. Have you found a way of determining the dB level in IEM’s?

      I read on the forum all of the time to never use earbuds/headphones etc. but I have to use them to be able to play live music at all.

      Thanks again for sharing your journey. I have been really encouraged by your testimony. I am 2 1/2 months into tinnitus… some days are ok, a few are good, and on occasion I experience a few days of crushing anxiety, agonizing defeat, despair, regret and hopelessness… so the success stories are really important. Thanks again.

      John
       
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    10. AUTHOR
      AUTHOR
      douglas_charles

      douglas_charles Member

      Tinnitus Since:
      10/26/20
      Cause of Tinnitus:
      Unkown
      No problem, John! So many people who make their livelihood from music have experienced this trauma, and in it's beginning onset it's hard to not feel so swallowed up by the grief and stress of it all. Given that you're a few months in, hopefully you've found some solace (to the best of your ability) in realizing that this doesn't mean that your career as a musician is over by any stretch. It just means you MUST be careful moving forward if you wish to continue making music.
      Regarding what to use or not, all I can do is share what's worked for me and what I've experienced. I stopped touring in 2018, and during that time I used in ear monitors at a very modest volume. Where I think I went wrong in how I treated my ears wasn't really what I was doing on stage, but what I was doing off stage. I spent hours and hours in the back of tour busses and on airplanes working on music, mixing, and creating new ideas. I would often smoke a lot of weed while doing this, so I think that's what catered to my ears becoming more and more sensitive over time. It's honestly hard to say, but that's my best guess. Keep in mind my tinnitus didn't really start until last October.

      At this point, I would suggest sticking with your in ears and keeping them as low as you possibly can. You may also want to research options that cater to people experiencing tinnitus and hearing loss. There are SO many musicians playing on massive stages around the world that experience tinnitus, and somehow they seem to make their careers work year after year. Beyond your time on stage, I would limit your exposure to loud noise as much as possible and again take ZERO risks from here on out.

      When I'm in the studio, I monitor my volume constantly and when using headphones I never use any sort of ear buds or in ear monitors. I stick with bigger headphones, and will wear my Etymonic ear plugs underneath just to be safe.
      I appreciate that so much! I made a promise to myself that I would share my story once I got my tinnitus under control, and even now I feel better than when I made this post. I hardly notice it most of the time, but again I go to GREAT lengths to protect my hearing. I have an appointment in a few days to get custom earplugs made, and from here on out I'm doing everything I can to protect what I have.

      Like you and countless others, musical expression and creativity are a large part of what defines my sense of purpose in life. And that's not only as a musician, but as a lover of music as well.

      Best of luck and reach out anytime if you need anything else :)

      - Douglas
       
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