By Kailey McGarvey
Do you hear that?
Imagine hearing a high-pitched noise, constantly, throughout the day and night. It follows you everywhere. Silence is a luxury that does not exist.
This is tinnitus.
In 2011, I developed tinnitus in my right ear, after a head cold. I vaguely noticed it, and thought it was something that would go away after my body had fully recovered. After a few months, my doctor told me I was completely healthy. But why was I still hearing that annoying sound?
At this point, the ringing in my ear was so faint that I could only hear it in complete silence. It was just a mere annoyance that could be easily covered up by any other sound, so I didn’t take it too seriously. I had some ENT and neurological tests done just to be sure that the tinnitus wasn’t a symptom for something bigger, which it wasn’t. So it was never more than a mild concern—until I woke up one morning in 2013 with an even higher pitch ringing in my left ear.
This was solid proof that something was happening and that it had the potential to worsen. I went through a second round of ENT and neurological testing to check for new developments. The ringing had become louder and took more effort to ignore. Again, the tests showed nothing abnormal. This was good, but I was told nothing could be done about the distracting sounds in my ears.
My tinnitus began to consume a greater amount of my focus, my energy, and my thoughts. My anxiety skyrocketed with thoughts of how it could progress and what it would mean for me in the future.
During the summer of 2015, my tinnitus worsened, again. Listening to music is one of my favorite pastimes, but now I hear sounds of high-pitched feedback during certain chords in songs. This is particularly devastating—my tinnitus has distorted how I hear music. It was then that I made a decision: Since throwing my energy into finding answers from doctors was obviously not proving productive, what would be a better outlet?
After some brainstorming, I decided that my “outlet” would be fundraising for tinnitus. I have always been involved in community outreach, and have been working as a finance assistant for a congressman. This would be my opportunity to manage my own fundraiser, while raising funds for a cause very important to me. With my recent move to Long Beach, New York, I had access to a beautiful boardwalk. I decided the fundraiser would start in my back yard with snacks and drinks, and once everyone arrived we would walk the boardwalk.
I chose Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) because their focus is on research. Research is where we will find answers about hearing loss and tinnitus; research is what will move things along. We are so close to finding answers. Since tinnitus is an invisible condition and it does not directly affect your health, it has historically not been taken seriously, but it is (slowly) becoming a “mainstream” condition. I hope this will lead to more people taking an interest in funding tinnitus-focused research, such as the science that HHF is funding. Greater funding will help accelerate the pace toward a cure.
I was lucky—the Saturday of the fundraiser was a beautiful and warm October afternoon. I had set a goal of $1,000 and asked for $35 per person. Those who couldn’t make the fundraiser were asked to donate online. I ended up with 23 people in attendance and $1,120 in contributions. It ended up just being a fun social gathering of family and friends. Dollars for Decibels was a success! Not only was I able to raise money for the organization, but the fundraiser itself reinforced the extraordinary support system I am grateful to have around me.
In addition to fundraising, I can also use my time to educate others and help the tinnitus community as a whole, rather than just trying to find answers for myself. It is important to educate the younger generation about the harmfulness of noise. Hearing conditions and hearing loss are seen as “problems for old people”—but this simply isn’t true. Hearing loss and tinnitus can begin at a young age and when the cause is excessive noise, it is entirely preventable. I was just 20 when my hearing became noticeably affected.
It is tempting to search endlessly for some sort of miracle drug, or to feel discouraged when nothing seems to work. But remember that everybody has some issue, and if (loud) ringing in your ears is your biggest problem, perhaps you are lucky. There is no operation or amount of medicine that can provide the same relief as the support and love of friends and family.
The outreach and education among my friends is working. Just last week, one friend decided that we shouldn’t go to a certain bar because it is always “way too loud.”
Tinnitus and hearing loss can be debilitating. Still, as with all chronic conditions, there are good days and there are bad days, but there are always good days ahead.
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