Column | Tinnitus as an enemy

Tinnitus, also known as tinnitus, has been getting a lot of attention lately. There is great concern about the laconic attitude of outgoing young people who are not so careful with the number of decibels their ears can tolerate.

The information page of the Dutch Association for Ear, Nose and Throat Medicine reports that two million Dutch people have a form of tinnitus, 10 percent of whom suffer from it a lot, and it causes psychosocial problems in several tens of thousands of people. “Fortunately, we know from experience that a very large part of this group eventually learns to deal with tinnitus and can function again (as well as possible) in society and social life.”

Nevertheless, I would strongly urge young people to prevent tinnitus. The noise level in entertainment venues has not been allowed to exceed 103 decibels since 2018, but the KNO Association advocates 100 decibels (with earplugs in). Even at 100 decibels you still suffer damage without hearing protection, says Henri Marres, professor of ENT surgery, in de Volkskrant.

I have heard young people say that they are willing to take the risk, because for them noise is part of going out in clubs and concert halls. May I, as an expert by experience, interfere with this for a moment? Finally an expert!

In October 2002 I attended a concert by the Italian pop singer Gianna Nannini in Paradiso. I wrote in it that week NRC Handelsblad a laudatory column about it: “She sang with an astonishing devotion for an accomplished artist and she moved around the stage like a Mick Jagger in his prime.”

Little did I know then that I would regret this visit for the rest of my life. The music had been loud and because of the crowds on the floor I had been standing way too close to the speakers all evening. A few weeks later I heard a noise in my left ear and immediately I had a premonition: this will never stop.

That has come true. One night of thoughtlessness and you’ll never lose your noise again. With one it is a noise, with the other a hiss, hum, squeak, whistle or a combination of such sounds. It starts out modest, some days it’s barely there, but it grows steadily over the years, at least that’s my experience.

Yet I experience less pain than before. That’s because I’ve learned to acquiesce in it. Those first years you do everything to get rid of it. I read a lot about it, talked to experts, tried therapies. I also visited an afternoon with fellow sufferers, something I can wholeheartedly advise against. I met people who had it much worse than me, like that woman who constantly heard the sound of a vacuum cleaner blaring. Afterwards I could only think: is this my foreland?

Tinnitus is incurable. One doesn’t even know what exactly is the cause – the hearing organ or the brain? — not to mention a cure. What do you do with an unbeatable enemy? You dodge the fight and walk around him. You talk as little as possible with and about him. You ignore him. You live your life as if it doesn’t exist. Yes, writing this piece seems to contradict that, but hopefully it will help people who are still without tinnitus. Maybe they hear me.

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