Tinnitus and other ear problems

Tinnitus: Why Won’t My Ears Stop Ringing?

NPR’s Nancy Shute describes tinnitus and the current state of work on getting rid of it.

For the past eight months I’ve had ear problems that are similar although more vexing because various doctors can’t figure out what it is.

One morning I woke up with an allergy-caused runny nose. It went away quickly but my ears felt clogged like I had some water in them from a shower. That clogged feeling changed in small ways, one ear feeling more clogged than the other but it never went away. This problem makes it quite difficult to know where a sound is coming from because my stereo hearing is now un-calibrated. It also makes hearing a phone conversation tougher because high end noise is breaking up, like distortion from a cheap speaker.

I eventually went to our doctor because I had to fly and I was scared I’d rupture an ear drum. We tried a steroid to kill what might have been a sinus infection fast for the flight but the ear problems remained and I cancelled the flight. Went to an ENT (ear, nose and throat doctor) and had my hearing tested and my ears examined further. No recommendation except time. Two months passed and no change and it was really driving me nuts and I decided to go to another ENT who happens to be an old friend of ours. This ENT told me authoritatively that I could fly because the problem wasn’t causing my eustachian tubes to close. I did fly and had no problem except the plane’s engine noise was more annoying than usual and I used noise canceling headphones to drown it out.

My doctor ordered a CAT scan of my sinus which showed nothing wrong. The second ENT thinks it might be a problem with my cochlea but he’s not sure. So, three doctors visits and an expensive CAT scan later the only thing I’ve learned is that I can fly, but the problem persists.

Since then I’ve flown numerous times and the pressurization has never bothered my ears. The problem remains and at times it drives me crazy. While this probably isn’t tinnitus (I don’t hear ringing) I have empathy for anyone suffering from that problem. The part of this NPR piece that piques my interest is the idea that an initial problem can leave an imprint on a brain and even though the problem is gone one might continue to suffer with it because the brain attempts to adapt to it. Whether this is true in my case or not my guess is that this happens with many physiological problems.

3 Comments

  1. I have a benign tumor on the vestibular nerve – called an acoustic neuroma. Did your doctors (s) suggest that this could be a possibility?
    Perhaps the CAT scan ruled it out. Just something to ask about next time you see an ENT. I have tinnitus but have found with time that I can live with it. Good luck!

  2. Helen: Both the ENTs I’ve seen are aware of those kinds of tumors but the CAT scan seems to have ruled it out. I’m not ruling anything out at this point because I continue to have this problem.

    My current theory, based on how fast this problem came on right after an allergy attack, is that I had a sinus infection that damaged my eustachian tubes and they’re taking a long time to heal. My problem is not constant but seems to change over time; one day one ear is worse than the other, the next month it seems to have changed. This to me feels more like damage that’s healing than something constant.

    All of that said, we don’t know what the hell it is yet and at times it drives me crazy. But, I can fly which is important to me so I live with it and hope it gets better.

    I’m sorry you’re living with tinnitus, that can’t be any fun. Thanks for your input and if I find out more I’ll certainly post it here.

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