I offer this as a caution to young people.
For more than 20 years I have suffered from Tinnitus.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound within the human ear. In my case it’s like the sound of eascaping gas right in the middle of your head … and, using this as a reference, it’s about a 26 volume level on your car radio. It’s loud.
Tinnitus is not a disease, but a condition that can result from a wide range of underlying causes. In my case, I think it was those years as a disc jockey during the rock n roll years with high volume on the control room speakers and blaring earphones. And my reward is this internal sound and it is with me 24 hours a day, every day.
Tinnitus is common: about 20% of people between 55 and 65 years old report symptoms on a general health questionnaire, and 11.8% on more detailed tinnitus-specific questionnaires. Life catches up with you.
More recently, about 5 months ago, I noticed some hearing loss on one side, accompanied by a mid-range hum. It can be as loud as the tinnitus or, on good days, it’s about half volume.
Two problems. The first, and perhaps the saddest issue, is the fact that I am unable to enjoy the absolute peace that comes from silence. This is something that we hold so dear in the Haliburton Highlands of Ontario.
A few weeks ago I was sat by the family campfire with my son and his family and they remarked how absolutely thrilling the quiet of the evening was. I was very saddened to realize that I would never again know that kind of tranquility.
The second problem comes when trying to follow conversations in a group. With two competing sounds in my head it becomes a real challenge to separate conversations. The strain of not being able to hear easily is hard to deal with.
After four doctors appointments and different befuddled opinions, I am scheduled for an MRI in October and then I have a speedy appointment with a hearing specialist in November. We need to figure out why the mid-range hum is occuring. The tennitus, sorry to say, is a given and will likely never be fixed.
When I see young people with ear buds and I can hear the volume spilling out, or when I hear the whum, whum, whum, of a base speaking pounding inside a car, I know that they are prime candidates for tennitus. I’ve talked to others who have the same condition. One chap drove truck and had the window open on the good weather days. The pounding of the wind can create this kind of damage. I remember reading about a fighter pilot who suffered from tennitus as a result of the incredible whine of the jet engines … despite the head gear that was supposed to protect him. Entertainers who perform in high volume setting, i.e. concerts, also are prone to this injury. Of course, workers using noisy heavy equipment wear ear protectors because they know that this is the way to protect their hearing and avoid the curse of tennitus.
It sounds such a small thing but, trust me, until you have a constant hisssss in the centre of your head, you have no idea just how precious silence can be.
Do yourself a favour. Think about your long life ahead and turn down the volume, or at least enough so that you’re not abusing your hearing.
I’d give just about anything to hear the sound of silence once again.