At some stage in our lives, all of us are likely to experience ringing in our ears when there is no apparent source of a sound. It may be evident coming home from a rock concert, or for a short period as a result of a sudden extreme noise, such as a gun discharging nearby.
Unfortunately for many people, this buzzing or ringing sound can be persistent, intermittent, and prolonged. This is a condition known as tinnitus. The extent to which tinnitus affects a person’s life depends on various factors: on the volume, frequency and duration of the noise, and on the person’s individual perception of it. Tinnitus itself is not regarded as an illness but as a symptom, similar to pain.
Even if tinnitus isn’t an illness in itself, it can assume the proportions of one. When excessive, the strain caused by tinnitus may cause sleeping problems, anxiety and depression.
Tinnitus is an indication of problems in the sound-processing system and can be linked to a range of very different disease patterns. One of the most common causes of tinnitus is hearing loss. A hearing test can reveal whether hearing impairment is also involved. The pitch and volume of the tinnitus can also be established by special diagnostic tests carried out by an Audiologist.
Identifying Physiological Factors
Aside from damage to the auditory system, tinnitus can also be caused by jaw joint dysfunction (e.g. teeth grinding) and chronic neck muscle strain.
Although stress is the single most commonly quoted cause of tinnitus, there is no scientific basis for assuming a connection between stress and tinnitus to date. But tinnitus can cause stress. Noises are perceived more acutely when a person is tense.
Some medications can set off tinnitus. Once medication is stopped, the noises usually disappear again, too. But certain medicines can cause irreparable damage, which can result in permanent tinnitus.
Tinnitus is very individually perceived by sufferers. So before proposing a certain therapy, an exact diagnosis is essential. This diagnosis can begin with an assessment by your Audiologist.
Sometimes tinnitus can be medically treated. If this is the case it may be recommended you see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist. In some cases dental, orthodontic and orthopaedic examinations are also necessary.
Recently developed imaging processes show that tinnitus is not exclusively related to the ear, but that certain areas of the brain may also be involved in the perception of tinnitus.
While research has yet to discover a cure, tinnitus can be treated. There are many ways for patients to cope with their condition.
Modern technology can help subdue tinnitus. The main principle is acoustic stimulation. This means allowing your brain to hear and, therefore, focus on external sound rather than tinnitus.
In most cases, wearing hearing instruments both improves hearing and alleviates tinnitus. The reason being that if you can hear better, you can also ignore tinnitus better.
Hearing instruments pick up ambient sound over a microphone and amplify it before passing it onto the ear. This enables wearers to better focus on the noises, sounds and tones around them. The rustle of leaves in the forest, friendly conversation, or beautiful music restore the emphasis on pleasant hearing impressions and narrow the scope for tinnitus.
In many cases, users scarcely or don’t hear the tinnitus at all as soon as the hearing instrument is switched on.
Some hearing instruments also feature a noiser function. What is the benefit of this combination? As hearing instruments can only amplify noises actually present around us, they are of little use as tinnitus therapy tools in very quiet hearing environments. This is when the noiser function can be helpful.
In these situations, the noiser can generate a soft noise to distract the patient from the tinnitus. In modern hearing instruments, like those from Siemens, various hearing programs can be selected at the touch of a button: purely hearing instrument function, purely noiser function, or a combination of the two. Noisers generally offer considerable relief from tinnitus.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Your personal mindset and feelings play a decisive role in this method. Training focuses on targeted information, an analysis of the person’s behaviour, practical exercises and positive experiences.
Effective cognitive behavioural therapy aims to change the way a person perceives tinnitus by teaching ways to focus attention away from it, and achieving control over stress.