Tinnitus is a condition shared by an estimated 360,000 Canadians who suffer from the sensation of hearing sound in their ears when there is, in fact, no sound actually present.
Typically, sufferers describe the sound as “ringing in the ears,” although others explain it as hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring, or even chirping. As tinnitus is usually a subjective phenomenon, it cannot be objectively measured, but is often rated clinically on a simple scale from slight to catastrophic.
Although there are numerous coping strategies for sufferers to utilize, there is no known cure.
Music icons Ozzy Osbourne, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton suffer from tinnitus, as do actors William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and Steve Martin, not to mention Jeopardy host, Alex Trebek.
Bethanne Keep, co-founder of the Tinnitus Foundation of Southwestern Ontario, also knows this first-hand as she has suffered from the condition’s effects for the past 15 years.
Keep doesn’t know what caused her condition — nobody does because there are many possible causes — but one night while lying in bed, just “out of the blue,” the sound began.
“I call it the Chinese water torture. It is a struggle to say the least,” said Keep, who also suffers from MS, which doctors’ say may have been her trigger. “Knowing there is nothing that will stop it is frustrating and very hopeless.”
For some dealing with the worst forms of the condition, suicide has been their chosen form of escape.
Keep, in fact, had a couple friends who took their own lives.
One friend of Keep’s, a Grammy Award-winning producer, first spoke to her about the condition eight years ago. He took his life last year.
“It was devastating to him even at that time, so it only got worse. There are people who can cope; they can have ways of getting by, but it can truly be devastating,” Keep said. “It can be a simple hum, right up to extremely alarming sounds, so bad you can’t hear much else.”
It is with those kind of tragic outcomes in mind that Keep, along with co-founder Grant Dobson, created the Tinnitus Foundation of Southwestern Ontario just three months ago.
Raising awareness around the condition is a key part of what the foundation is hoping to do.
Keep said loud music is something people need to protect themselves from, not just for their hearing, but because it is a potential trigger for tinnitus.
“If you go to concerts, loud places, you have to protect yourself,” Keep said. “Some artists, they are now handing out earplugs at their concerts. They still want their fans to hear the music, but they don’t want people’s hearing being affected.”
It might seem strange that greater awareness is needed for a condition that affects an estimated 600 million people worldwide. However, Keep said it remains a condition frustrating low in terms of public awareness.
As with any medical condition, fundraising is as important as awareness.
Keep and Dobson wanted to be sure where any money they raised would be spent, so they went to the Internet looking for input.
Keep knew there was the American Tinnitus Association, which led her and Dobson to the Canadian Tinnitus Foundation. However, the two decided they wanted to be able to do something where we knew exactly where the money was going and the purposes it supported.
That led them to work with Sumit Agrawal, an associate professor and research director at University Hospital, London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC).
“He told us when you direct your funds, it wont’ just go to LHSC, it will go toward tinnitus research,” Keep said. “He said they are trying everything, but they don’t have a cure yet. That is why it is important to raise money, and awareness, to support what they are doing here in London.”
The foundation’s first effort was a fundraiser at Buffalo Wild Wings, on Nov. 16, which Dobson describes as a “successful” first effort. The next event will be a more on-line effort.
The Tinnitus Foundation S. Western Ontario Christmas Raise For a Cure Auction is set to begin Friday, Dec. 5 at 9 a.m. and close on Monday, Dec. 8, at 9 p.m. The auction will be undertaken through the group’s Facebook page.
The auction includes items donated from artists such as Osbourne, Sarah McLachlan, Marianas Trench, Blue Rodeo, Foreigner, Lonestar, and Fefe Dobson, who is Dobson’s niece.
The auction will take place on the foundation’s Facebook page. Bids will be placed on each item and at the end of the auction; the bidder with the highest amount will be contacted by private message. Winners will have a week to pick up their item or the next highest person will be chosen.
To contact Bethanne Keep, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 519-472-0667.