Drink More Grapefruit Juice: My Journey with Tinnitus...So Far
Ian Punnett and his wife host a morning radio show called, appropriately, Ian and Margery on KTMY in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He is widely known for also being the regular Saturday night host for a popular late night syndicated radio program, called Coast to Coast AM, which attracts an estimated 4.5 million listeners every night, making it the most listened to talk radio show in North America. In December 2011, Ian announced that he would be stepping down as the regular Saturday night host of Coast to Coast AM due to his increasing struggles with tinnitus. Here he shares the story of his own tinnitus journey.
My neurologist (we’ll call him “Dr. Brown” so I don’t have to type “neurologist” over and over) listened closely as I described the biography of my pulsating tinnitus: when it was born, the growth of my fluctuating hearing loss (like having shaving cream in my ears), the occasional dizziness and the torture of a neverending, low-grade headache.
Dr. Brown turned and said the one thing I had come to expect from almost every doctor but then two things that were joyously out of character. “There is nothing I can do to treat your tinnitus.” Since 2009, that’s the typical line I have heard in most examination rooms just before the doctor refers me to somebody else.
Instead, Dr. Brown surprised me with his sense of humor. “So, I am going to kick you back to your ENT for the tinnitus – and those guys hate that, don’t they?” I had to laugh. Each of my well-respected Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists seemed to race to the part where they could refer me to somebody else. I loved Dr. Brown’s candor.
“Yeah, why do ENTs seem so bothered when it comes to tinnitus?” I asked. “Because ENTs are doers and they can’t do anything about it. Now neurologists,” he said with a smile, “We’re talkers. We love to talk. So, I cannot treat your tinnitus or your hearing loss but I am one hundred percent sure that I can treat your headache.”
One hundred percent? During almost two dozen tinnitus-related visits with three ENTs, two audiologists, a general practitioner, a TMJ specialist, a psychologist, a psychiatrist, a hypnotist, a holistic practitioner, a dizziness specialist, a pain clinic and a sleep clinic, nobody had said that they were “one hundred percent sure” of anything.
“I believe you are suffering from something called cervicogenic headaches – chronic pain that originates where the bony structure and soft tissue of the head and neck meet. I can treat that with a mild muscle relaxant before sleep as of tonight.”
One day before I had been in pain and despair. Because of Dr. Brown, in just 24 hours I went from telling my wife that I wanted to have a head transplant to being ninety percent pain-free since I first started trying to get doctors to appreciate how disruptive tinnitus can be.
One might think that a lifetime of daily headphone use as a radio personality might be enough to give my tinnitus some automatic “street cred.” Despite my share of rock concerts and a family predisposition to hearing loss, one ENT had still said to me, “I’m not saying you
don’t have tinnitus, but I recommend you see a psychiatrist to make sure it’s real.”
Since my therapeutic strategy has been to follow up on every lead, I made an appointment with (let’s call him “Dr. White”) a psychiatrist. As an old school shrink, Dr. White asked me questions about my mother and my sex life and finally concluded that if the tinnitus was not organic, my mind could be creating “a delusion” to provide an excuse to end my successful but demanding media career.
“But I have one boy in college and another on the way. I love my work and I like being successful,” I protested.
Dr. White countered, “When a soldier is shot in the leg in battle, the adrenaline is pumping so much that he doesn’t even feel the pain until later when he finds some shelter.”
“Point taken,” I replied, “but how is that analogous to my tinnitus?”
“I don’t know,” Dr. White admitted, “But I like that story.”
I’m not sure how much his advice cost my insurance company but I can tell you that the biggest break might have come for free a few days later. A radio listener named “Mike from Santa Monica” sent me a postcard encouraging me to drink more grapefruit juice.
I had gotten so many thoughtful yet off-the-mark home remedies since revealing my tinnitus struggles on the air (like eat more pineapples, use magnets, use refrigerator magnets shaped like pineapples – you get the idea) that I was ignoring my mail. For some reason, though, my wife pulled Mike’s postcard out the pile and read it to me. Grapefruit juice? Curious and committed to following every lead no matter how improbable, I Googled a minor miracle. In a chat room where fellow sufferers discussed the grapefruit juice “cure” I saw a description of cervicogenic tinnitus.
All at once it made sense! If I have cervicogenic headaches, wouldn’t it figure that I also have cervicogenic tinnitus? With its characteristic pulsating sound, imbalance issues and fluctuating hearing loss, described in the literature as “fullness in the ear,” why had nobody mentioned it before?
Fortunately, the experts at the Mayo Clinic have agreed to give me a work-up for tinnitus and my headaches. I’ll let you know what I learn about cervicogenic tinnitus.
This brings me to the lessons learned from my adventures so far:
- Trust yourself. Outside opinions are informative but only you can decide if they are definitive.
- Never give up on hope. Try whatever you can afford. Sound therapies can help but don’t stop there. We know the scientific community is still learning much about the various types of tinnitus, and that will surely lead to new viable treatments.
And drink more grapefruit juice. I don’t think it cures tinnitus but I feel I owe it to “Mike from Santa Monica” to pass that along.
To connect with Ian and stay up-to-date on his progress with tinnitus he invites you to follow him on Twitter at @deaconpunnett.
This article appears in the Spring 2012 issue of Tinnitus Today. If you found this article interesting and would like to read more like it, consider signing up to receive the magazine by joining ATA's fight to silence tinnitus. Your gift of $40 or more will entitle you to one year's worth of Tinnitus Today, which comes out in three times a year in Spring, Summer and Winter. Your gift will also give you access to 20+ years worth of Tinnitus Today articles that you can read anytime online, and ATA's Electronic Newsletter, which supplements Tinnitus Today and is emailed right to your inbox in June, October and February.
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