November 19th, 2014 ~ Vol. 84 No. 45
Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Sound of Silence
Crowsnest Pass Herald Front Page
“And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made.
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming.
And the sign said, The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls,
And tenement halls,
And whispered in the sound of silence.”
Simon and Garfunkel- 1966

Back in 1999 I began to notice that an annoying persistent ringing in my ears had become much more prominent. It was waking me up at 2 AM. and whenever I found myself in a place of relative quiet, which is rare these days, that continuous high pitch hiss and buzz would fuzzy up my head.
In one of those not so quiet moments back then I came across an article about William Shatner (Captain Kirk of Star Trek) and how he was suffering from a serious case of head noise. It went on to say it was driving him crazy and that it had apparently helped break up his marriage because of the stress it had caused him. Apparently he and Spock had had their hearing damaged by a one-time extremely loud explosion on the film set some time prior to its onset.
It was after reading this that it finally dawned on me that I had been living for some time with something that was not so normal. So the first step I took was to have Doc clean the coal dust and beer caps out of my flaps and then I talked to him about my symptoms. His final word was: "Learn to live with it" and so I reluctantly have. At first I was kind of depressed by the fact that I would never again experience true silence no matter how remote and quiet a spot I found. Then I did what I do best, I did some research.
So try to imagine for a minute living with the continuous sound of a sizzling frying pan in your head. Or, how about the permanent buzz of electrical wires on a cold day in both ears. Ringing, buzzing, whistling, hissing and pulsing are all terms used by those of us cursed to describe a very common affliction these days known as "tinnitus" or head noise. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant in character, mild or severe in intensity and range from a low roar to a high-pitched type of sound. Whatever its character, it is extremely annoying and worrisome to those who first develop it. According to an audiologist at a Hearing Clinic in Cranbrook that I visited fifteen years ago, the first thing to realize is that tinnitus is most likely a secondary symptom of noise-induced hearing loss. It may be connected to over exposure to loud noise, medications, ear infections, a perforated ear drum or even the normal aging process.
It apparently can be aggravated by loud sounds, caffeine, smoking, excessive alcohol use and stress. Hearing experts generally offer the following explaination for most types of tinnitus. Microscopic hairs in the inner ear are responsible for transmitting sound. Normally, these hairs move in response to pressure from sound waves. Their movement triggers electrical discharge from the auditory cells in our inner ears, which is then interpreted by the brain as sound. If the hairs are damaged, they move randomly and create "noise". The Workman's Compensation Branch likens this damage to the effect our feet have on a lawn. Tromped down enough times grass will eventually loose its resilience and stay flat.
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For most of us baby boomers who have pounded our inner ear hairs flat with the likes of Steppenwolf and the Rolling Stones rock music or spent a good part of our lives in and around places like coal mines there is not much out there medically to help rectify the problem. Should you develop an abnormal persistent ringing in your ears your first step is to visit your family doctor. He can test for some of the more obvious and common causes like infections, perforations, high blood pressure or wax buildup. One of the symptoms a GP should pick up on is if the ringing is only in one ear. That might lead them to order a cat-scan or some similar type test to look for any hidden factors like a tumor or any other disturbance of hearing pathways. Should he find no clinical cause, here are some helpful suggestions. Try to avoid loud sounds, over fatigue and nerve stimulants (caffeine etc.). Learn to accept your head noise as an annoying reality and promptly ignore it as much as possible. This is entirely possible most of the time by mentally sweeping it aside and focusing on other things.
At bedtime and in quiet surroundings tinnitus is more marked so it might help to try having a loud ticking clock around or a radio tuned to in-between stations to help mask it. I guess this is substituting one type of hiss for another for the brain to interpret.
If your tinnitus is severe your doctor may recommend a hearing aid evaluation as hearing aids can sometimes help mask the problem. Protect your hearing at all times and warn your "rapper" offspring to do the same. Modern 120 decibel rock music was and is a hearing killer and the damage done will not manifest itself for many years to come. Those ear buds cranked up may be cool but sooner or later they will come back to haunt you.
One day you will discover that that omnipresent hiss is not going to go away. For those of us who didn't safeguard our hearing it is a very noisy world out there, even when it is quiet.
November 19th ~ Vol. 84 No. 45
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