What is Tinnitus?
Everyone knows what hearing loss is – the term is pretty self-explanatory. Tinnitus is somewhat different. While many people may not know what the word means, most have probably heard about its characteristics, and many may have it without knowing what it’s called. Tinnitus is better described by its common description, “ringing in the ears”. Basically, it is when a repetitive noise is heard without there being any external cause to the sound. People naturally hear ringing in the ears after being in a loud concert, but tinnitus occurs when there is no external cause to the sound that you hear in your ear.
- Tinnitus is a perception of sound
- Tinnitus is involuntary (i.e. it is not produced intentionally)
- Tinnitus originates in the head
It’s quite common to have mild tinnitus, and around 12 in 100 people are occasionally affected. According to clinical evidence, 1 in 200 people have tinnitus so badly that it affects their ability to lead a normal life.
The causes of Tinnitus
Most tinnitus is caused by a problem with the inner ear, which converts sounds to nerve signals, the auditory nerve, which carries these signals to the parts of the brain involved in decoding those signals into what we sense as sounds. Tinnitus is often linked to hearing loss. For this reason it’s more common in older people who have age-related hearing loss. Exposure to loud noise at work may also cause tinnitus. If you work with pneumatic drills or in noisy factories, you may be more at risk of having tinnitus. Other possible causes can come from:
- Ear infections and inflammation
- Diseases of the ear, e.g. Meniere’s disease
- Excessive use of certain drugs
- Hard wax blocking your ear
- Middle ear infection
- Head injury or whiplash
- Induced by noise
Common difficulties with Tinnitus
There are a lot of common difficulties caused by the condition across people who suffer with it. You aren’t alone if you suffer with the following problems:
- Difficulty getting to sleep
- Stress and irritation
- Poor concentration
- Despair, depression
Hope for your hearing
Although Tinnitus itself does not have a cure yet, there are treatments available that help many people cope better with the condition are available. Nearly everyone with tinnitus also has a hearing loss. For those with hearing loss, hearing aids should obviously improve their hearing and communication. But many do not appreciate that hearing aids can also improve tinnitus. Hearing aids are often helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using a hearing aid adjusted to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to hear. The better you hear, the less you may notice your tinnitus. A hearing aid from Imperial Hearing – along with the correct rehabilitation – can usually dramatically reduce the effects.
The link between tinnitus and stress
Perhaps the most exacerbating factor for tinnitus is stress. Tinnitus affects the brain in more than one way; it triggers the auditory centre, but it also affects the emotional control centre. When this occurs, stress hormones are released. As a result, the person with tinnitus becomes more stressed due to the tinnitus, and just as importantly, the greater stress increases the perception of tinnitus. To break this vicious cycle, in which one negative symptom reinforces the other, often requires a number of complimentary strategies.
The use of sound in tinnitus management
Most tinnitus management methods use a combination of counselling and sound stimulation. The purpose of using sound is to:
- Minimise the contrast between the tinnitus and the surrounding sound environment
- Reduce fatigue and stress
- Shift focus away from the tinnitus
- Break the cycle
Sound stimulation can be delivered via a number of methods including:
- Amplified sound from hearing aids
- Broad-band or narrow-band signals from a noise generating device
- Environmental sounds