This blog is about a health issue of mine that I’ve never really written about before. At first I didn’t want to write about it because it wasn’t clear how the problem would resolve. And then I just never got around to writing it. But shaniac’s recent post about his ear problems made me realize that it would probably make sense to write a post about this. While the title of my blog post probably isn’t familiar to many people, for some people it’s probably a word that they really hate. I would probably mess up if I tried to reword this so I will just let the Mayo Clinic define tinnitus:
“Tinnitus (TIN-i-tus) is noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.”
About three years ago, I developed tinnitus in my left ear. I can actually remember the exact moment when it happened (which is typical). I was living in Cayman at the time and, in late May of 2009, I woke up, grabbed a tissue, blew my nose (I had a bad sinus cold at the time) and felt a bunch of popping in my left ear followed by a high-pitched whine. I was already pretty tilted about the cold which I’d had for a few days so the squealing in my left ear certainly wasn’t helping things. I went to the supermarket and got some various items like ear wax removal stuff and whatever else might help to get rid of the noise. Nothing really helped.
For the first few nights it was extremely difficult to sleep. It was actually nearly impossible mainly due to the distress of not knowing what the noise was and, more importantly, not knowing how to get rid of it. In terms of actually describing the tinnitus, I would compare it to the noise that you hear from an old tube TV but louder. So, if you imagine that being in your ear all the time, you might understand how it could be quite annoying.
After a few days of no reduction in the volume of the noise, I decided to call some local Cayman doctors. They basically couldn’t see me for several months. That wasn’t acceptable to me so I decided to fly home (I was going home in a few days anyway so I just moved up my flight) and go see a Philly-area doctor. Because my mother is a physician it makes it a lot easier for me to get in to see Philly doctors because of her connections.
So I started by going to an Ear, Nose & Throat doctor. They did a hearing test and told me that I had a bit of hearing loss in my left ear. From my perspective, the tinnitus noise was actually blocking my ability to hear certain things out of that ear. But as I was told that day, tinnitus is actually the brain inventing a noise due to hearing loss at certain frequencies. However, something else interesting happened at the ENT. He also had me open and close my mouth and he instantly said “well that could be your problem right there” or something along those lines. Basically he ended up explaining that my jaw was not properly aligning (who knows how the f that happened) when I bit down and that the interaction between the jaw and ear could easily be the cause of the issue. He recommended that I go see a bite specialist. Things were beginning to make some sense.
For a bit of background, about six weeks before the tinnitus developed, I started to get kind of dizzy sometimes. Mainly while eating. In a few situations, it actually got really bad. For instance, one night at a steakhouse in Cayman (a place called Copper Falls, I highly recommend it if you ever visit) I was pretty much totally unable to eat the steak. It felt very difficult to chew and therefore nearly impossible to actually swallow the steak. This happened a few times over the course of several weeks in April and May of 2009. I also experienced some random dizzy spells here and there doing things like turning my head quickly and such. But since the problems were intermittent (every week or two) I basically ignored them figuring they would go away on their own. But once I was told by the ENT that I had a jaw issue, it made sense that I would have trouble chewing steak.
So the next order of business was to go see a jaw specialist. I found one at dental office pretty closeby — a guy named Sol Rosenberg at Main Line Dental Health. So I went in to see Dr Rosenberg a few days later and he told me that I had a case of TMJD which stands for Temporomandibular Joint Dysfunction. Which is a fancy way of saying that my jaw joint is not functioning the way that it should be functioning. According to Dr Rosenberg, my bite was causing the dysfunction in my jaw muscle which was a possible cause for the ear issues. That didn’t make total sense to me because of the onset of the ear issue but given the chewing problems, it seemed to me like I should get treated for the TMJD problem. So I opted for the treatment solution which was something called a bite splint. It looks a bit like a retainer but it only goes on the bottom of your teeth and it sits inside of the teeth so it isn’t visible to others. The bite splint essentially replaces the contact points for your upper teeth so when your teeth come together, they come together in a slightly different way. By doing this, the jaw can be repositioned to a more optimal position which eventually allows the muscles controlling the joint to return to normal.
So after taking the mold of my teeth for the bite splint, I had an unfortunate nine day wait for the bite splint to be made. I think all of the jaw manipulation at the exam and mold-taking really set off some issues because within hours of returning home, I was having some terrible headaches, pain, jaw clicking and more. It got bad enough that within a day or two I went back for a followup because I was having so much trouble. It’s hard to describe the state that I was in at this point. While I was not really all that happy about the ear issues, the jaw stuff totally had me down for the count. I could barely get out of bed because my head would start spinning and it was like a fire alarm going off in my head. In the followup appointment, Dr Rosenberg showed me a water-based bite splint called the Aqualizer. It is a temporary relief solution for those without a bite splint. It was amazing. Within about three minutes of putting the Aqualizer in, my symptoms already began to subside a good amount. It wasn’t a great permanent solution because the Aqualizer can only be used for so many hours at a time and whatnot — but it helped me tremendously to get through the next week.
Anyway, by mid June 2009 I was fitted with the bite splint and things started to get better. I still had the tinnitus in my left ear and I still had some dizziness but slowly the jaw issues went away. At first it was really hard to talk with but eventually that went away. The only annoying thing about wearing it was that you need to take it out to eat. Somehow I never lost it despite having a few close calls here and there. I started by just taking it out for a few hours here and there and eventually stopped wearing it at night. I ended up wearing the bite splint for something like eight months. By the time I stopped wearing it, the jaw issues were totally better. I still get an occasional issue but for the most part I think it’s resolved.
On the other hand, the tinnitus is still there. It’s still unclear to me if it was caused by the jaw issue, the sinus cold or who knows what. It does seem to be quieter than it used to be before the jaw issues were fixed but that could be my perception. I also think that I’ve noticed a difference after some trap/neck development from the weightlifting stuff — I think things have gotten better from the lifting. Either way, my current level of tinnitus doesn’t really bother me. I go for weeks at a time without even thinking about it. But if anyone were to ask me if I can still hear the whine in my left ear, the answer is a most definite yes. By all accounts, it is likely that it will never go away. I am okay with that though. While my onset was much earlier than most (when I was 26), a lot of people eventually get some form of age-related tinnitus. So a lot of you will eventually catch up.
That concludes the health portion of the blog. But I wanted to point you to this interesting article about stinger on huffpost. First, it’s cool that he’s focusing on some non-poker things like draftday. I think a lot of players are still just sitting around instead of taking advantage of services like Poker Refugees or moving to an area with good live poker. Second, I’m shocked that he’s able to earn $600+/hour in Florida. Do they even have big games there? For some reason I thought the stakes were severely limited in Florida casinos. Third, he is still playing on one of the existing online poker sites in the US. Are sites like www.carbonpoker.ag offering decent games? I really just don’t even follow this stuff anymore so I have no idea what payouts, game selection and so on even looks like anymore.
On the other hand, even during the typing of the health portion of this blog entry, one of my industry contacts was pinging me on AIM with some of the details of the new regulations and rules that are going to be in place in Nevada whenever those regulated online poker sites get off of the ground. So maybe there is some hope after all.