Painter Van Gogh chopped his ears off when he discovered he had tinnitus.
When I found out about my own tinnitus insane thoughts came flooding in. A high-pitched noise that drowns out humanity can feel like a punishment worse than prison. Since I originally shared my tinnitus story I got a lot of helpful information via direct messages.
What I discovered accidentally transcends the treatment of tinnitus and will help you think about the power of your brain differently.
The unfortunate cause many people are unaware of
(Always seek your own medical advice. This is just my experience.)
Nearly 50 million Americans alone suffer from tinnitus. If you go to the doctor like I did there is a high chance you’ll be told there’s no treatment.
At best you may be told that the high-pitched noise can be drowned out by playing white noise while you sleep and during the day. After I got my bad news I became pretty emotional. Instead of taking it as fact, I got many more opinions and wasted a lot of money.
Eventually I discovered two treatments for tinnitus. To understand the treatment you have to understand tinnitus in simple terms. Let me, Captain Simple, explain what it is.
Tinnitus is a sound generated by the brain. Sometimes it’s a temporary sound, like after you go to a rock concert and your ears ring the next day. Other times Tinnitus goes from being an occasional noise, to a frequent noise, to a 24/7 noise. That’s what happened to me.
Permanent tinnitus goes hand in hand with hearing loss. From a young age I played drums. Most of the time I wore earplugs but not always. Then I transitioned into DJing as a 16-year-old. That led to many late nights playing in nightclubs with music as loud as a jumbo jet engine. Then I transitioned again into sound engineering and spent 8–10 hour sessions in recording studios, making electronic music and recording vocals with singers.
Thankfully I gave up my music career in my 20s, partly due to mental illness. Then over the last two years I’ve worn noise-canceling headphones every day for long periods of time. Initially it seemed fine to do. That’s until I crossed the threshold of slight ringing in the ears only at night, to full-time tinnitus. No one knows for sure what created my permanent problem, but noise-canceling headphones were likely the cause.
When I saw multiple ENT (ear, nose, and throat) specialists they all said the same thing: a job in music leads to tinnitus eventually. They expected it to occur in my 60s or older.
Then I asked about noise-canceling headphones. They couldn’t give me a definite answer. But one specialist said he was collecting data and had seen a pattern with the noise-canceling function. The research is still ongoing.
My brain programming device
After I posted my tinnitus story on LinkedIn I got a lot of recommended treatments. All of them — except two — were temporary treatments.
Anything from rubbing my head, to cortisol injections, to hypnotherapy, to meditation, to stand on one leg. Two of the suggestions were powerful though and they transcend tinnitus.
One treatment I’m using right now is a tiny device that reprograms my brain. It’s a hearing aid that is specially designed for tinnitus suffers. The hearing aid plays fractal sounds to my brain all day and night.
The sound is a bit like a wind chime or a 1990s doorbell. The brain is incredibly smart and gets used to sounds easily. To prevent the brain from getting used to the fractal sounds they constantly change.
The volume of the sound must be below the sound of my high-pitched tinnitus at all times. At night I wear them to bed. When I wake up I charge them.
Over a 6 month period this tiny device that sits behind my hear is supposed to reduce or even eliminate tinnitus. It’s been around since 2012 so it’s not exactly a new idea.
Leveraging cutting edge brain science
The weird device uses the concept of neuroplasticity to reprogram my brain.
The theory is if my brain can all of a sudden flip a hidden switch and start generating this painful noise, why can’t the brain be programmed through sound to stop doing it?
As soon as I heard the device used neuroplasticity to treat tinnitus, I leaped for joy. The idea of neuroplasticity is not new to me. Over 5 years ago I learned about neuroplasticity and used it (partly) to heal myself from mental illness. The idea it can apply more broadly to issues like tinnitus is exciting.
Becoming superhuman with the device
The device I wear is also a hearing aid. That means it can amplify sounds if the patient needs it. While I have hearing loss at 6 kHz, my specialist told me that I don’t need amplification yet.
When I first turn the tiny devices on they are set to a program that amplifies sounds. The devices I have are on loan and normally retail for about $11,000. The ones I will buy shortly will likely cost about $2000.
When amplification is turned on I suddenly get Superman hearing. The whole world changes around me. I can hear my own heartbeat. I can hear the tiniest rustle of my jacket. I can hear people that are two apartments from mine talking. The immense power it gives my hearing feels like I have superhuman powers.
The point is this: technology will be able to enhance our human features far beyond what we’re born with in the future. Superhero powers may not be that crazy with the innovation that’s still to come.
The father of Star Trek has a similar device
Turns out other people have discovered similar treatments. William Shatner of Star Trek fame had a similar device, except his used white noise to help put the high-pitched noise he heard into the background.
I wore the device for 24 hours a day for several months. Now, I don’t hear the tinnitus 95 percent of the time. So it’s important to let people know that in many cases, tinnitus can be managed. I’m living proof you can conquer it.
— William Shatner
A powerful possibility in the making
The second tinnitus treatment I’m about to try goes to the next level. It involves an app with a tone generator that I have to use to find the high frequency that I hear.
This sounds easy but it’s not. Because what I hear is generated by my brain, whenever I attempt to decode the sound for the purpose of treatment, my brain starts playing tricks on me.
After weeks of trying I have been unable to identify what sound I hear. Sometimes I feel like I hear one sound and other times it appears to be multiple sounds. Over the span of a week it can feel like the sound morphs.
The process is extremely frustrating. It’s like playing a game of hide and seek with your brain, except you always lose and don’t know why.
If I could identify what sound I hear then the idea is that I wear a headband to bed each night with headphones tucked inside. The app then plays an hour of white noise to help me sleep, then transitions to a program that plays back to my brain the high-pitched sound that I hear 24/7. The theory is based on neuromodulation. It’s the same idea that the brain can be reprogrammed to heal itself.
In a few weeks I’ve booked a soundproof room to try one last time to see if I can figure out what sound I hear when there’s complete silence and no distraction. We’ll see.
So far this treatment has had a lot of success in Australia. It’s been presented as a possible tinnitus cure to hundreds of Australian ENT specialists who are dying to offer another answer other than the current, “it’s permanent and there’s no cure” one they’ve been forced to give.
If you’re one of the millions of people who have tinnitus then have faith. Treatments that can reprogram your brain may become mainstream soon.
The more important lesson is that neuroplasticity is a powerful idea you should research. What if you could reprogram your brain and live an entirely different life? I’m one of the fortunate people who has experienced this. Maybe neuroplasticity can unlock a powerful alternate reality for you too.