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The Truth About Tinnitus - Updated!

Updated: Apr 11, 2022

Most of you know I've been around music all my life. I was blessed with a gifted pianist-father who wanted his kids to follow in his footsteps and share in his joys.

We were steeped in a musical home. The basement housed a massive upright piano which, dictated by the laws of physics, will never ascend the stairway again. A Baldwin Acrosonic spinet graced our dining room, and later a hulking Hammond CV church organ system ousted the remaining family furniture.

The family room was powered by 60's state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment, including Fisher receiver, EV speakers, Sony 1/4" reel-to-reel recorder and LP player. In the corner was a black-&-white RCA 24" television, complete with VHF rabbit ear antenna. A cozy couch occupied the back wall, next to a chair/ottoman and reading table, while a table lamp filled the room with warm light.

The best part of that beautiful world was sound. I remember listening to Led Zeppelin for hours, amazed at the production. Dueling pianos, with big sister Lynn on the Acro' and me on the basement monster, raised the roof. My '74 Ford Maverick's 8-track player housed only one tape for an entire year - Led Zeppelin II. I went to live concerts and high-school dances sitting inches away from the speakers. With no ear protection. For hours.

The hissing noise, sounding like a highest "S" you could make with your mouth, was continuous. At first, I was annoyed but later became both curious and worried. I detected a slight improvement over days, but I wan't sure if it was actually getting quieter, or if I was just acclimating.

It's 2021 now, and the hissing continues. It gets worse after a noisy gig (even wearing IEMs) and subsides after a few days. And I'm still not sure if the hiss is quieter, or I'm again, just acclimating some more.

There's no cure for tinnitus. It's actually a brain disorder. The ear's aural receptor is kaput; there's a nerve just sitting there waiting for a sound - but gets nothing. Our brain's auditory system apparently abhors a vacuum. It detects some gaps (especially above 8KHz), and decides to insert a signal. Why? That's the $1M question.

I have simply come to terms with it. Technically, I know it's there. Sometimes, I simply forget about it. Other times, when I think about it, it's there, and I examine it. Have the pitch or modulations changed? How loud is it? Ironically, I imagine the roughly 8K hiss at a somewhat-useful very high Bb. Metaphysically, as long as it's there I know I'm alive. At least it's not a complete detriment.

For my musician friends, I've been wearing IEM's for years. I was a Westone guy for around eight years (going through two pairs). My isolation sucked, so I found Sensaphonics. They are the ONLY manufacturer of pure silicone custom IEMs, delivering 37db isolation. I got the D2's. Total out-the-door was $750 (exam, impressions, IEM's and fitting session). Yes, expensive. There is only one Sensaphonic doc in Denver, and she's the real deal. Dr. Drew Price, Au.D. I'm on my third gig with them, and I'm glad I did it.

Back to reality. Tinnitus sucks. You don't want it. There's a lot to hear out there. Take care of your only pair.

UPDATE: During one of my recent guided meditation exercises, I was instructed to focus on "one thing"; it could be my breath (a typical meditation trick), feeling my abdomen rise and fall, or even a sound. Tinnitus, of course, is always with me so I decided, "why not?" I was to embrace the sensation with a feeling of pleasure and renewal. While this advice works perfectly for the breath, tinnitus is another story, until I realized something.

Several years ago, Crystal and I vacationed in Bermuda for our 20th wedding anniversary. Aside from its breathtaking beauty, Bermuda offered another pervasive feature - tree frogs. All around us was the sound of tiny tree frogs, like thousands of miniature wind chimes. I asked the hotel concierge about the sound, and she said "Oh, yeah. The sound is always there. We just get used to it and forget it even exists." After a day, all I heard were these wonderful tree frogs, replacing my tinnitus, and I settled in to enjoy one of the best vacations of my life.

So now, when I hear my tinnitus, I think tree frogs, happily singing in the magical island of Bermuda. Take that, tinnitus!

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