In January this year I was upgraded from guy who has tinnitus and bad hearing, to upgraded ears (via hearing aids) and, for a brief time, no tinnitus.

NHS audiology department

As part of the excellent care I get from the MS nurse/specialist here in Brighton, the specialist ask if there's anything else going on that she can help with. Tinnitus has been a long standing part of my life (very high levels from around the age of 23), and so she referred me to the audiology department.

I wasn't in any particular rush and (I think) about 9 months later I had an appointment booked to see a hearing specialist.

Before digging into the tinnitus, their process is to check the hearing and also run an MRI to check for an rare condition called Ménière's disease - which the result came back quickly confirm that I don't have this.

However the hearing specialist did check over my hearing test and as I'd seen before (around when I was doing the Linear therapy) I've got loss of hearing in the higher frequencies.

Two charts showing a range of hearing ability with a strong drop off at the right side on both charts, where "fs" and "th" sounds are heard

In both ears the report was that I have "moderate high-frequency hearing loss".

What I didn't know about the hearing test was that it's based around sounds of speech. Which is why there's letters on the chart. What this shows is that I was often missing the "fs" and "th" sounds. For example, if someone said "Do you want fish", I'd likely lose the word "fish" and in my head fill in with most obvious word within the context of what was happening (ie. we're looking at dinner options).

The audiologist immediately offered me hearing aids to trial. I could turn them down, and internally that's exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew logically it would be the right thing to do.

I will admit that after I left the appointment I was completely distraught. Much, much more so than when I was diagnosed with MS. My own mum had hearing aids from her mid-40s (the same as me now) and I definitely picked up the shame she felt wearing them and spending decades trying to hide them.

There is a weird stigma (from my generation certainly) that if you wear glasses, you're considered smart, clever, even sexy. If you wear hearing aids, you're old, breaking, a bit of a failure. It's completely stupid - though I can see how glasses that aid poor eyesight can be used as a fashion accessory.

Anyway I would be fitted with the hearing aids in January this year (the original appointment being in November before). I did reading around hearing aids, I talked a lot to Julie and my mum about her hearing aids, and I actually managed to make peace with it by the time the appointment came around to INSTALL MY NEW ROBOTIC EARS! 🤖🦻

A hearing aid: clear tube to insert in the ear and dark brown unit

One slightly annoying/failing in the tech, is that when the battery is low it'll ring out (in my ear) which is fine, but it'll then keep ringing out every 60 seconds or so until you replace the battery. I had hoped it would be more of a warning like "10% left, only a few hours of life left", but no, it's "CHANGE ME NOW!". Because of this, I made myself a tiny carry case (for size 13 batteries) which I always have a pair of batteries in my trousers or shorts watch pocket.

A brief moment of no ringing

The original reason for visiting the ENT department was for tinnitus. I was sent this (excellent) NHS video on tinnitus - a lot of which I know, but the section I linked to is about how the NHS propose that hearing aids can help.

The fundamental problem with tinnitus is that it's not fully understood, and thusly there's no ensured method to dampen it. Still, the working theory in this video is that the brain is trying to hear a sound that doesn't exist, so there's this sound that's the result of adjustment. The hearing aids are customised to my hearing and compensates those sounds that I can't hear. In theory, then my brain says "oh hey, the ear can actually hear those sounds, so I can back off".

For the first couple of weeks there were actual days that I couldn't hear my tinnitus. I could feel it, somewhere in my head, but I couldn't hear it. That (was) a pretty huge deal.

However, since then (and rather quickly for me), my tinnitus is a strong presence in my head. I know from personal experience that my tinnitus bothers me more when I'm working on it (because it's moved into my focus). Most mornings (probably every morning) I wake up to the screaming in my head. I can't really hear the kids or Julie (my wife) properly in the morning (part hearing, part tinnitus, part fatigue).

The hearing aids do relieve some of that pressure, and I can actually feel my hearing opening up when I put my hearing aids in and turn them on, but the tinnitus, for me today, and for the last 6 months, is still there.

Tinnitus therapy

I was also offered hearing therapy, specifically around tinnitus from the NHS which I took up. I have a monthly phone call with the therapist who is helping me to develop methods to help my brain cope with the sounds.

Really this is something I should have done years, or even decades ago. There's a few methods I'm using, though once in particular that I still find challenging:

  1. Using pillow speakers to listen to sounds in the night (I usually wake up at 4am and the tinnitus is loud, so trying to tune into another sound is the aim).
  2. Thought identification. This means being aware of my thoughts about tinnitus, but then voicing them out loud it "I feel that I wish it were quieter in my head", and then again with "I notice that I feel that I wish it were quieter in my head". I understand this kind of therapy, and I see it as "putting a light on scary thoughts", it so of diminishes the concerns… a little. I usually do this late at night in bed, out loud, but quietly. The sound of my voice does also calm the tinnitus.
  3. Practise switching my attention. I find this particularly hard, but the idea is: hone into an external sound (perhaps trying to visualise it too) for around 30 seconds. Then move the attention to the sound of the tinnitus for 30 seconds. Then to another sound, then to the tinnitus and finally one more repeat. This is supposed to help train my brain to understand that the tinnitus will still be there and doesn't need my immediate attention. I'm struggling a lot with this but I think it's because I've had over 20 years of hearing the tinnitus and that being the highest priority in my brain that it's baked pretty deeply into my system.

So that's my journey so far. I really do love how the hearing aids have opened up my hearing and, if I say so myself, I'm proud of myself for getting over the shame I initially felt.

I hope this can help some of you that also suffer from tinnitus. Thanks for reading.