Rejoining Society

06/01/2015 06:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 01, 2016

A decade ago I woke up one morning with such a loud ringing in my right ear that I thought the fire alarm was going off. And over the next few hours I had a bout of vertigo while throwing up the entire time. It was plain awful.

I went to see the ear doctor that afternoon. After I told him that I had had Mexican food and a margarita (with salt on the rim) for dinner, and a 2am snack of a full bag of Cheetos, he said that too much salt had caused the illness. He also later determined that I had tinnitus as well as endolymphatic hydrops. And I had a loss of hearing in the right ear.

Through research on the internet and with advice from my doctor, I lowered my sodium intake dramatically, which helped to reduce the level of the ringing. I also read that too much sugar, alcohol and caffeine would cause the ringing to intensify, and occasionally lead to vertigo. And dehydration could cause the tinnitus to flare up.

Since I am a very disciplined individual (having spent almost four years as a teenager at a military academy), I was able to drastically reduce the use of salt, alcohol, sugar and chocolate. I quit drinking caffeinated beverages altogether. As a result the ringing was reduced to a whisper unless I was eating out and accidentally ate too much salty or sugary foods at a restaurant or a friend's house where I wasn't in control of what was in the meal. My last episode of vertigo was 1 ½ years ago after having to endure a dozen episodes over the prior eight years.

One other environmental factor also affected my hearing and that was loud noise. Ten years ago after my first episode of vertigo my daughters and I had gone to a restaurant and within a few minutes I told them that we had to leave as the noise was hurting my ears so much that it was painful. So on top of a restricted diet I started avoiding loud places. Several years ago a musician friend of mine recommended getting fitted with musician ear plugs which they wear to reduce the decibel levels on stage. So I spent a thousand dollars to get several pair.

I always wore them in movie theaters which had the loudest sounds...especially during the previews. And I would wear them in many restaurants. But last year my ear sensitivity increased so much that I would wear them on the streets of New York City as well as at dinner parties at my own home.

And this year it got so bad that I had to quit going to church because even with ear plugs the sound was too loud for me and my ears hurt. I then bought Bose noise cancelling ear pods and wore them to movie theaters where I could hear the movie at a sound level that didn't hurt my ears.

In April my right ear became so sensitive to sound that even running water from my kitchen faucet hurt my ears. And of course the clanging of pots and pans at Chipotle was really painful. So I put on the noise cancelling ear pods and ate in silent bliss. After a few weeks of avoiding going out with friends to restaurants and no longer going to church services, I realized I was becoming reclusive. I wanted to avoid noise as much as possible and was staying home most of the time.

Finally I realized that this was not a good situation and I needed to see if there was a way out of this downward spiral. So I delved into the internet and found that my ear sensitivity actually had a name attached to it which is called "hyperacusis." So I then read up on it and discovered that there are people in this country who are experts in treating tinnitus, hyperacusis, hearing loss and dizziness/imbalance disorders -- all of which I have had over the last decade.

I found that these specialists are located mainly in New York and California although one of the original practitioners is in Georgia. So I contacted one of them, Sol Marghzar, at The Hearing Doctor in Beverly Hills, Ca. My first appointment was in mid-April and he measured my tolerance to loud sounds to give me a baseline. A week later we had a therapy session as he stated that part of my issue is psychological in that when loud sounds caused me pain and anxiety in the past it would come back and affect me again even though the sound level was not so high that it was actually damaging my hearing. Within two days of being told that part of the issue was psychological I noticed that I was able to tolerate some sounds that just a week ago caused me pain.

The doctor suggested that I download a decibel meter to my iPhone so that I could measure sound levels in different environments. I did so and wrote them down and gave them to him at the next appointment a week later. For instance, at 80 decibels in a restaurant my right ear would hurt. However, sound at that level is not actually damaging my ears. He gave me a chart that showed that the sound level would have to be at 85 dB A for eight hours or 88 dB A for four hours or 91 dB A for two hours or 94 dB a for one hour to actually damage my hearing. So he said that unless the decibel level was at these higher levels for the length of time quoted, then I should not be concerned. And he said to quit wearing my ear plugs at all once I left the office.

It turns out that I was over protecting my hearing and that I needed to retrain my brain to accept louder noise. So he ordered pink noise hearing devises and gave them to me the first week of May. He suggested that I wear them 6-8 hours per day, and I did for the next month. During May I did stored my ear plugs in a drawer. By the last day of May I could go to all the restaurants and other places where the noise levels had hurt my ears before and now didn't bother me at all.

Today I returned to his office to tell him about my progress. At first he seemed a little skeptical that I could have progressed so well in only a month as he had originally told me that I would be listening to pink noise for up to six months. So he tested my hearing for noise sensitivity again against my original baseline. The improvement was dramatic. I could now listen to sounds up to 14 decibels louder than I could have just five weeks ago before it hurt my ears. Before today 78 decibels would be too loud for my right ear (the most sensitive one). Today it was 92 decibels. He said that out of 600 patients that he had treated since 1997 that no one had progressed as fast as I had and especially considering my age.

The reason that I am blogging about this is that most ENT doctors don't know about this therapy. In the U.S. alone there may be only around 30 licensed practitioners who do what Sol Marghzar, Au.D. CCCA, FAAA does. So for anyone whose ears are overly sensitive to sound and who are avoiding noisy places and maybe even becoming reclusive, there is a solution. The success rate isn't 100% but I have been told it is much higher than 50%. It has changed my life for the better and I would encourage anyone with hyperacusis to give it a try.