The Tinnitus Tipping Point: Stress

My Journey with Diminished Hearing

By Evelyn Randall

In 1989, I was a stay-at-home mom with three children and was overwhelmed by the endless decisions involved in building a new home with my husband. When the ringing in my ears started, I thought the noise was temporary, so I carried on and ignored it. After months of buzzing—all day, all night—it occurred to me that it might not go away. When I finally made an appointment with an otolaryngologist in my hometown of Belleville, IL, he confirmed that I had tinnitus and that there was nothing he could do to help me. I had never heard of tinnitus and hadn’t been exposed to loud noises, so it seemed that the stress of that year had been the tipping point that triggered it.

Being a busy mother, I continued on with my life and tried not to think about it. At first, I feared I wouldn’t be able to function as well as I had before tinnitus; but, I soon learned that not only could I function as well, but that I must. To this day, I keep active by hosting family gatherings, painting, gardening, and attending church and chapter meetings for PEO International (the Philanthropic and Educational Organization for Women). Yoga and Zumba also are fun and rejuvenating outlets!

For me, staying busy has kept the sound at bay. My tinnitus almost always is a constant buzz, with an occasional shift to a crackling sound. When I’m stressed or anxious, the volume goes up. Tinnitus doesn’t keep me awake at night, however, so I am grateful for my restful reprieves from the sound.

When I mentioned my tinnitus to my internist some years ago, he referred me to a doctor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO. While that doctor said there was nothing he could do to help me, he suggested that I cut back on caffeine because that might reduce the sound. I did so—reluctantly—for a period of time; but it made no difference, so I went back to enjoying my morning cup of coffee!

In 2005, I returned to the Washington University School of Medicine to participate in the Gabapentin for the Relief of Idiopathic Subjective Tinnitus trial conducted by Dr. Jay Piccirillo.

Gabapentin is used to treat some types of seizures and nerve pain. Since some research on tinnitus suggested the condition may be similar to chronic nerve pain, researchers hypothesized that gabapentin’s benefits also might mitigate symptoms of tinnitus. At the end of the trial, I was told I had been taking gabapentin, not the placebo. I hadn’t noticed any change in my tinnitus. Unfortunately, when the study concluded, researchers determined that gabapentin was not effective for treating symptoms of tinnitus. Nonetheless, it was exciting to be a part of research and helping those trying to help us.

In July 2011, I went back to the university’s audiology department to have my hearing checked. The hearing test showed moderate hearing loss in both ears, so I decided to get hearing aids. They improved my hearing but did nothing for my tinnitus. The hearing aids also don’t help me much in noisy environments, so I tend to avoid places with a lot of people, such as restaurants and meetings. Frankly, it’s draining physically and mentally to strain to hear people talking in crowded places. I also haven’t been to a movie theater in years, because I can’t hear the dialog if there is loud music or background noise.

While I don’t attend a tinnitus support group, because the closest one is too far away, Tinnitus Today keeps me informed on how others manage and what’s going on in research. I’m still hoping we’ll find a cure for tinnitus!