It’s been a long day. You’ve been lugging another person around inside you all day, your feet are swollen, and you cannot wait for sweet, sweet sleep.
You take what is hopefully your last bathroom break for the night, shut the lights off, and snuggle up with your pregnancy pillow. Your house is still and silent.
Then, without warning, one of your ears erupts with one of the most annoying sounds imaginable: “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…….”
You are the only one who hears this. How can it be?
How will you ever get to sleep if this continues?
What Is Going On:
If this is happening for more than a few minutes, you may be experiencing what is called “tinnitus”: the hearing of sound when no other sound is present, and only by you.
While it is commonly called “ringing” in your ears, it can also sound like:
- a buzz
- a whoosh
- singing or music
- a pulsing sound to the tune of your heartbeat
Any of these sounds can happen in one or both of your ears, and be intermittent or constant.
Whether you have experienced this before or not, you are not alone: tinnitus affects over 45 million Americans in some form. The CDC reports that 26% of people reporting tinnitus experienced it constantly (or near constantly).
Tinnitus can be a temporary problem, or a lifelong issue: The American Tinnitus Association reports that 30% of people reporting tinnitus (roughly 20 million Americans) consider it to be “a ‘moderate’ to ‘very big’ problem in their life.”
Why It’s Happening:
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself; it’s a symptom of an underlying cause.
While it is commonly associated with hearing damage or loss, it can also be:
- a result of excessive earwax buildup.
- a side effect of taking certain medications.
- related to stress, anxiety, and depression.
- a symptom of a number of medical conditions that only a doctor would know how to describe.
Before you scare yourself with that long list of creepy medical terms, take relief in the fact that studies have shown tinnitus to be quite common in pregnancy. Many moms-to-be suffer from this annoyance as well as other ear, nose and throat issues – especially during the third trimester.
The culprit? You guessed it: hormones. The changes in your hormone levels may cause you to be much more sensitive to sound as your pregnancy progresses.
Have you ever felt your own heartbeat in your ears? This is called pulsatile tinnitus and it’s very common during pregnancy. Since your heart is pumping so much more blood through your body, you may actually be hearing the change in blood volume. You may also feel a “fullness” in your ears as a result of your body retaining fluid.
No two cases of tinnitus are the same, and there is currently no “cure”, unfortunately.
There is some good news, though: studies show that this problem usually clears up after delivery (yay!)
What To Do About It:
First and foremost, you should definitely let your doctor know about this. They will want to check your ears to see if there is a visible problem that they can treat, such as an ear infection or excess wax.
Your doctor may want to do other tests to rule out any more serious conditions, such as hearing loss, blood pressure /circulatory issues, and/or anxiety and depression. Most cases of tinnitus are solved once the root problem is taken care of.
If the sound is starting to become very stressful, your doctor may suggest behavioral or sound therapy to help reduce the effects.
There are things you can do to help manage it, as well:
- Since tinnitus is more frequently found in those on the poor end of the health spectrum, living a healthy lifestyle is key. Hopefully you are already eating healthy and getting a decent amount of exercise – if not, start now. You will find that the sound is not so bad once you feel better physically.
- Silence is the enemy: try to avoid being in quiet surroundings, because that’s when the sound will be the worst. Try to keep some form of sound in the background at all times, like some music or the TV.
- If the sound is keeping you from falling asleep, you may be able to mask it with a fan, soft music, or a white noise machine/app (which will come in handy later on when your baby is having trouble sleeping). You may want to experiment with different sounds and frequencies to find the one that’s in tune with the sound you’re hearing – this should help reduce it’s intensity.
- Try your best not to dwell on it: the more you focus on the sound, the worse it’s going to be. Don’t let it stress you out or make you feel isolated – this is most likely just a temporary problem.
Tinnitus can be incredibly annoying and stressful, but take comfort that in the fact that you are not alone – and that you will forget all about this once you hold your sweet baby for the first time.