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If you know me at all, you’ll know that one of the elements of my chronic illness that I most struggle with is noise sensitivity. Light and sound sensitivity are common symptoms among people with ME/CFS, which exposure to these sensory stimuli causing my co-existing symptoms to exacerbate painfully.
In my case, it’s ‘sharp’ sounds that are the issue. Sounds like doors slamming open or shut or banging from building works can often feel as though somebody is drilling directly into my brain – an experience I discuss more fully in this past piece about my chronic migraines. Though I’m grateful to have grown more accepting of this situation over the years, after learning the hard way that you just cannot go through life trying to exhibit complete control over the world around you, suffering with noise sensitivity remains one of the more isolating elements of my illness experience. It’s almost impossible to describe it to others in a way that does justice to just how debilitating it can be.
Acceptance has been a big part of my own path with noise sensitivity, but there are also two practical steps I’ve taken to slightly lessen the toll sharp noises take on my sensitive snowflake of a head…
- I began to use ear plugs. As well as noise-sensitivity, I’ve also been blessed with the joys of sleep disturbance due to my condition, something which was at its worst during my time at university. Using earplugs both at night and during the day helps to slightly reduce the impact of external noise and reduce the risk of me waking up, and I’ve tried multiple types over the years. At the moment my favourites are BioEars’ reusable ear-plugs*, but I’m always experimenting with alternatives.
- I invested in noise-cancelling headphones. And I don’t mind telling you that doing so has changed my life. My Bose 700 headphones* weren’t cheap – and for disclosure’s sake, my newest pair were actually gifted by the brand as part of some work I did for them – but even the Bose QuietComfort pair* I had purchased myself beforehand were without a doubt also worth every penny. There are a range of brands at a range of price points available, and I’d highly recommend trying out a few to see how they suit you – ideally you’ll want ones with good noise-cancelling technology which are also comfortable enough to lie down in.
Problem solved, right? Hang on… not quite yet.
I had to learn the hard way that when you’re using accessories like ear plugs and headphones, you need to be on top of your game (and then some) when it comes to looking after your ears. I was somewhat aware of the risks of using ear plugs repeatedly without thoroughly cleaning them in-between uses, but I was horrified to recently find out that wearing headphones for just an hour increases the bacteria in your ear by 700 times. And as somebody who has their headphones pretty much surgically attached to them throughout the day, this gave me The Fear.
Even before I became noise-sensitive due to my health declining, my ear care journey had been rather eventful. When I was around three years old, a middle ear infection spotted by a GP led to an emergency myringotomy, and throughout my whole childhood I’ve suffered with sensitive ears that seemed particularly prone to infections. When my acquired noise-sensitivity as a young adult meant that I had no choice but to use ear plugs and headphones, the ear infections became even more frequent. There were a couple of not-so-glamorous years during my early twenties where I’d constantly need to book in for an ear wax removal or seek ear infection treatment, and my goodness, unhappy ears can be a terrible burden on your day-to-day life. The pain I experienced during these years was the only wake-up call I needed to start taking better care of my ears whilst using the aids I needed to manage my condition.
In an ideal world, I’d simply get rid of my ear plugs and noise-cancelling headphones and let my ears… just breathe. Believe me, I’ve tried to do this multiple times. However, the fact of the matter is that at this point in my life, I need to rely on the things that help me keep my noise sensitivity under control… so it’s up to me to make sure I use them as mindfully as possible:
- I choose antimicrobial reusable ear plugs*, wash them thoroughly between uses, and invest in new ones regularly. As a solution it’s not as environmentally friendly or cost-effective as I’d like, so I’m always on the lookout for new products to try.
- I carefully and regularly clean my noise-cancelling headphones following the specific instructions issued by the brand – gently cleaning the outside surfaces using a slightly damp cloth and mild soap. If I’m travelling anywhere, I also ensure I use a protective carry case rather than simply chucking the headphones straight into a bag.
Above all else though, I think the most important thing when it comes to ear care is to be proactive. I’ve learned to seek help whenever I detect even a hint of something not being quite right, rather than waiting and allowing the issue to painfully escalate… and that’s why I think the services of Auris Ear Care and the Audiology SEO services they offer are so valuable – they enable people to access the appropriate care easily and efficiently. You can find out more about Auris and the services they offer on their website!
Do you live with noise sensitivity? How do you look after your ears whilst managing your symptoms?