I have added this amazing story of Karin Kratz, to encourage people with Tinnitus and Hyperacusis, wherever you are in the world, to seek help.
My problems with hearing started soon after my 60th Birthday in 2009.
One afternoon when my daughter called me on my cellphone, I could hardly hear her and thought it was bad reception. She phoned me back and for some reason I then answered with the cell on my right ear and thought all was fine. During the conversation I switched the cell phone to my left ear and once again I could hardly hear her- something was wrong!
I immediately made an appointment to see an ENT specialist He did all the appropriate tests and could not find anything physically wrong with my ear.
He started to ask me questions about the previous few days and I recalled that I had suffered an excruciating headache just the night before. I thought my head was going to explode. After taking a few tablets it subsided and was gone in the morning. I thought nothing further about it.
He said I could have suffered a viral infection which had attacked my ear. To make sure there was nothing else causing the deafness, he sent me for a MRI scan. It was all clear.
He then sent me to an audiologist for a hearing test and she confirmed that I had lost a fair amount of my hearing in my left ear. The ENT specialist said there was nothing that could be done about the loss of hearing and that I would get used to the tinnitus that had also developed.
Sometime afterwards, I discovered that I now had become very sensitive to noise. I found it odd that I had lost the hearing in that ear, but now was very aware of any sharp noises. (freezers in shops, trolleys clanging, car’s engine, loud music).
I phoned a clinic for advice and they suggested I try their special dietary supplement for 3 months. It did not help at all for the ear but it improved my eyesight!
They at least explained that I had developed hyperacusis. I understood it as my brain overcompensating for the hearing loss. It was good to have a name for it, but it didn’t help my situation.
Every time I was exposed to very loud noises, the tinnitus got louder and it was starting to interfere with my life. If I was in a noisy place, I found it difficult to have a conversation with someone without asking them to keep repeating things.
Loss of function and isolation
I could no longer enjoy going into the mall. All the noises drove me mad.
Lots of people talking, cash registers, freezers, trolleys, music blaring! I actually felt ill after more than 20-30 minutes being exposed to that kind of noise and was exhausted. I had to ask my daughters to shop for me. I couldn’t go to the movies or drive long distances in my car more than half an hour of driving also set off this ill feeling. Just the hum of the engine upset me.
I even found it difficult to go to meetings. I was secretary of a craft club and couldn’t take the minutes at our committee meetings because of all the different voices.
A social meal with the whole family became too much- with all the talking back and forth. Instead of being social and getting out and about, I now preferred just staying at home by myself.
I also began to experience chronic fatigue- even being diagnosed with Polymyalgia. I assumed that the ill feelings and complete exhaustion after being in public, were due to the Polymyalgia.
The tinnitus got louder and it now was inhibiting my hearing even more. The louder the outside noise, the louder the tinnitus. My teaching at Sunday School was affected. The worship in the morning with all the singing and music set off the tinnitus and when I then went to the classroom to teach the children, I could hardly hear them. I had to keep on asking them to repeat themselves.
I tried many things. An audiologist told me there was no help for me: if I got a hearing aid to help hear the children’s voices, all the other noises would get louder as well and it would drive me crazy.
I saw another clinician who gave me a device which made sound, to retrain my brain not to notice the tinnitus. I had to wear the device for at least 6 hrs every day and it could take up to 6 months to take effect. It worked!
I hardly noticed the tinnitus and at night it did not keep me awake.
But this did not help the hyperacusis.
For this, she suggested a psychologist to help me. I tried to explain to her that I was not getting upset or feeling ill when I was around people or in a mall. I have always been a very social person.
I did not fear people or going out. It was the noise that was bothering me.
My life seemed changed forever!
Over the next 4 years, my social life was getting very limited and I needed things repeated to me more often when I did go out.
In late 2013, I heard a talk on Radio567 about ear problems. I phoned in to see if there was now something that could be done about my condition. Natalie Buttress, the guest audiologist said there was.
I finally went to see her in February and once I got my special hearing aid my life changed.
Getting to her for the first appointment was a real problem for me. Fish Hoek to Sea Point is at least an hour’s drive. I had not been able to drive that kind of distance for a couple of years. It was just too exhausting! I nearly did not manage that first appointment. After heading back home, I slept for almost 3 hours!
When I went back for the fitting Natalie had adjusted the hearing aid to different settings for different situations for me explaining that the around sounds could be reduced, while still hearing the human voices. She also said the Zen setting would help with the driving- and any other place where I could not bear the noise. I was worried about coping once again driving back home, but I bravely drove back with the hearing aid on the Zen setting.
I was pleasantly surprised to find myself not as tired as before when I got home. I did not have to sleep for 3 hours!
The next visit was no problem. When I got home I had to rest, but it was not sheer exhaustion!
I now realized that some of the fatigue was not from the Polymyalgia, but from my brain being overloaded with all the outside noises.
I still have fatigue but it is not as devastating as before, and I do not feel physically ill in those noisy situations. My life has changed dramatically with this new hearing aid.
I can now cope with being in the mall for a few hours, attend meetings and drive longer distances. I can now even go to the movies once in a while- unheard of for me for all of these years. I have even started my craft club again!
I am slowly getting some of my life back! I would never have thought that a hearing aid could do that for me!
I understand why some people might become recluses. Without even realizing that it is the noise and not the people contact that is making them feel uncomfortable they just prefer to stay at home by themselves.
This dramatic change in what I can now do and cope with must be related to getting this new hearing aid, it cannot be just a coincidence.
Thank you, Natalie.