A primer on what’s going on with my ears. …
Currently found in the individual Davidus Wertheimerus, this affliction’s external symptoms include lack of concentration, heightened sensitivity to noise exposure, periodic sadness and a tendency to miss work for medical appointments.
Internally, diplacusis is an insidious and completely disconcerting phenomenon, and only one of the aggravations that have been plaguing my head since August.
Having straggled into work late again today, after my third way-out-in-Jersey dental appointment in five weeks, coworkers today started asking how my teeth were feeling. Were it only that simple.
I have had, intermittently since early August, a wide variety of problems with my right ear. It started with a loud, angry “hum” back in May: a low-level ringing that increased in volume until I could hear it above the sound of my air conditioner. It abated after ten days and an aggressive steroid from my allergist. I chalked it up to basic tinnitus, as I have had tinnitus for years, but the intensity startled me.
The hum slowly but steadily returned in August, and a second dose of the steroid didn’t fight it off completely. At its peak, the hum was so loud I began having trouble hearing conversations over the ringing in my right ear, and the symptoms also spread slightly to my left ear.
But to call it a “hum” is to simplify the situation. When it’s bad, my hearing issues are coupled with a pressurized sensation — like going up 50 stories in a fast elevator — that feels like it should subside when I pop my ears, but does not. On the better days, the hum degrades into a vibration of sorts, a buzz that pulses in my ear, not unlike the feeling one gets when one has a really good stretch and can feel it all the way into one’s ears, only I’m not stretching. My condition has occasionally eased up but never really disappeared.
And when it’s bad, the hum interferes with my hearing, getting in the way of sounds, causing diplacusis. I can discern the high and low tones of a sound, but not the low-middle, and it makes for weird moments. If I’m positioned the wrong way in a conversation, I will hear two people speaking in chorus when there’s only one person speaking to me. Songs sound dissonant as a guitar or vocal is cut in half by my internal hum. And the touch tones of the phone are completely out of tune when I cradle the receiver in my right ear.
I spent August and September seeing doctor after specialist, with no one able to pinpoint my situation. Only dentists could hone in on my problem — TMJ — and that was only after I stumbled across my symptoms listed on a TMJ Web page while researching my problem.
I have thus identified my situation — somewhat — as associated with TMJ, which, in a nutshell, means my jaw isn’t moving or resting the way it’s supposed to. This is making me grind my teeth at night and clench my jaw during the day, which has led to aggravation in my eustacian tubes, which has thrown off the normal workings of my ears. I also have some of the other problems related to TMJ, including headaches and soreness in the neck and shoulders.
Ear problems such as tinnitus and diplacusis can be diagnosed by medical doctors but are not really treatable through traditional medicine. Instead of working with an ENT I have spent exorbitant amounts of time driving from Manhattan to Hamburg, N.J. (and once to the Bronx) to see a dentist, bought books and scoured Web pages for advice and information, and visited massage therapists and a chiropractor for relief.
And still my ear hums. Every day is different; some days are good, most are mediocre. Today my dentist adjusted my mouthpiece, which keeps me from grinding my teeth at night and should give me some relief, if I’m lucky. Tomorrow I make my second visit to the chiropractor, to see if tweaking my body here and there will help reset my jaw and ease the sensations I have in my ear.
So that’s the bad news. The good news is that none of this has hurt my hearing. I tested at better-than-average levels in September while my symptoms were in a lull. While the hum and buzz do interfere with my hearing, the diplacusis is in my middle ear and not my inner ear, which makes a world of difference: I can attack it knowing that underneath the aggravation is a healthy, working ear that will eventually hear normally again.
The other good news is that what I have seems transient. Most of the potential remedies, from medicines to mouthpieces to physical adjustments, do alter or temporarily minimize my symptoms, so I know that somewhere out there is a solution that will work for me. I simply have to press on until I find it.
I haven’t done anything drastic or public yet, like wear my mouthpiece at work. But if I have to, I shall. Just do me a favor and don’t laugh too hard if I wind up with braces this winter.