Christy Beth Kluesner feels she's been "robbed of silence."
For 32 years, Kluesner, 64, has suffered from tinnitus, also known as ringing in the ears.
No matter where she is, she hears a "cacophony of unpleasant sounds."
Sometimes it’s like crickets that won’t stop chirping. Other times, it’s like the non-stop buzzing of a fluorescent bulb.
To compensate for this and her hearing loss, she wears digital hearing aids that produce calming music designed to reduce the din of tinnitus.
"It’s a tremendous life adjustment," she said.
Tinnitus (TIN-it-us) is the medical term for the perception of sound in one or both ears when no external sound is present. The different sounds – hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping or clicking – can be intermittent or constant. The perceived volume ranges from subtle to shattering.
For Kluesner, the problem came on after years of hearing abuse. As a child actor in New York City, she fired a loud pistol eight times a week for eight months during performances of “The Power and the Glory.” For two decades, she was a Big Band singer, performing nightly in front of the orchestra’s trumpet section.
Today, she and other members of the Charlotte-area Tinnitus Support Group are trying to bring awareness to the condition, raise money for research and encourage businesses to turn down the sound to under 80 decibels – the level that can cause irreversible hearing loss and damage.
Recently, Kluesner and her husband, a saxophone player who has mild tinnitus, saw the IMAX 3D movie, “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Both wore ear plugs as they watched ads promising “Earth Shaking Sound.”
With an app on her iPhone, Kluesner documented the decibels – 80 most of the time and up to 94.
"Our world has really gotten much louder," she said. "We’ve got to calm it down."
Tinnitus affects about 50 million people, especially men and women in the military, according to national estimates.
The Charlotte-area support group has more than 70 members, said leader William Hunt, 67, who developed the condition in 2009, after firing a pistol on his Shelby farm.
“I went completely deaf for 10 or 15 seconds, and then my hearing came back,” he said. Some weeks later, he began hearing a scratchy sound in both ears, and in days, it became “intolerable. I couldn’t sleep at night. If I did fall asleep from exhaustion, it woke me up within an hour.”
There’s no cure. Doctors typically refer patients to audiologists, but therapies are “unpredictable,” Hunt said.
Some people try Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, using electronic devices in the ears, producing sound in an attempt to trick the brain into ignoring the tinnitus. Hunt chose a metabolic treatment created by a practitioner in Israel.
“The concept is that the body can heal itself if you remove the barriers to healing and bring metabolic indicators into normal range.” Hunt spent three months in Tel Aviv, taking “special treatment capsules,” which he still takes today, at $100 a month.
“I can’t say it was a cure (but) I got 90 percent relief.”
Hunt’s recommendation? “If I were you, I would protect my hearing as I do my eyesight. Don’t go to any loud concerts. Wear ear plugs.”
The Charlotte-area Tinnitus Support Group is sponsoring its first annual walkathon Sunday at 1 p.m. at Freedom Park. Contact: William Hunt, 704-567-6860, firstname.lastname@example.org.
American Tinnitus Association, www.ata.org
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