Catriona’s story

Hi, my name is Catriona, I’m 52 years old and I am a singer. About eight to ten years ago, I started noticing having some auditory problems. I went to an ENT who conducted hearing tests, but she couldn’t find anything significant to do with my hearing in terms of actual hearing loss. She said she knew it was frustrating but couldn’t recommend anything at the time.

A couple of years later, I went to a different ENT who told me that what I have is a patulous eustachian tube. This means I have a condition where the Eustachian tube, which is normally closed, instead stays open.  When this occurs, the person experiences autophony, or the hearing of self-generated sounds. The ENT told me it can’t be fixed.

The autophony resulting from having a patulous eustachian tube feels like always having a congested right ear. It feels like I’m always underwater. I hear the vibrations of my own body. So if I’m lying in bed I can hear my heart beat or if I speak I can hear a muffled sound vibrating in my skull. It’s much worse if I am tense, so a bit like tinnitus. If I can manage to ignore it, it’s less intrusive.

It’s very uncomfortable and tricky in loud environments. In cafes and restaurants, if there are other people speaking around me or if there is music playing, I find interpreting what’s being said very hard. I’m constantly asking people to repeat themselves.

Professionally, this has been a significant issue. This has been significant enough that I have mostly given up singing. I now teach and do other things, but I don’t chase work because singing is not something I feel comfortable doing anymore.

Many in our society are unaware of the depressing effect that excessively noisy environments can have on those of us who struggle to discriminate between the spoken word of those we want to communicate with and background noise. Café-owners and restauranteurs could do much to increase our comfort by incorporating noise-absorbing materials and keeping music to low background levels.