Tinnitus – What It Is and How to Treat It
Tinnitus is a physical health condition where you experience ringing in the ears or other noises without any external sound being present. It is a symptom that describes a fault in the hearing system, rather than a disease in itself.
Studies suggest that up to 18 per cent of Australian suffer from tinnitus. For most sufferers, it is a mild and manageable condition, with as little as one per cent of sufferers reporting a dramatic effect on their quality of life.
Sounds Associated with Tinnitus
Here is some of the sounds tinnitus sufferers report to have experienced:
- Rushing wind/ Ocean sound
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by a variety of situations and conditions, and each sufferer’s symptoms are different. While some might experience constant ringing in their ears, others might experience irregular spells of it. Common causes of tinnitus include:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Extreme stress or trauma
- Degeneration of hair cells in the inner ear
- Side effects from prescription and non-prescription medications
- Meniere’s disease (swelling of a duct in the ear)
- Otosclerosis (overgrowth of bone in the middle ear)
Exposure to loud noise and side effects from medication are two of the major preventable causes of tinnitus. Industrial workers, transport workers, farmers and other workers surrounded by noisy tools or equipment should take necessary steps to protect their hearing at work.
People who listen to loud music often, whether it is through musical performance, through headphones or at clubs and concerts, are also at significant risk. If you’re taking medication, you should always discuss side effects with your doctor to check whether it can cause temporary tinnitus or make existing tinnitus worse.
Without management, tinnitus can be debilitating, causing distress, poor concentration, sleeping problems, and irritability in its early stages. Managing tinnitus involves understanding how it works, adapting to the symptoms and improving your psychological associations with them. The aim of all sufferers is to reach a point where they are used to noise made by their tinnitus so that it doesn’t adversely affect their life. Successful management of tinnitus involves accepting the condition, keeping busy, stopping worrying about it and finding relaxation and stress management strategies that work for you.
Try to think of it like moving from the country to the city. At first, you notice the extra noise, but after some time you get used to it. By maintaining a relaxed and positive attitude towards tinnitus, it can be easier than you think to manage it.
Understanding how our mind reacts to noise is the first step to managing tinnitus. When your mind first takes in sound from the environment, it classifies it as threatening (car horn), neutral (wind blowing trees) or non-threatening (familiar/friendly voice), creating an automatic reaction the next time you hear it. Tinnitus can be classified by the mind as a potentially threatening noise when it first occurs, placing the body in a state of stress. Removing negative focus and emotional meanings with the noise will reduce the effect it has on your life.
Tinnitus Treatment Options
There is no single or best treatment for tinnitus. Treating your tinnitus depends on your lifestyle, personality and the severity of the condition. Surgery and medications are rarely justified or necessary.
Some simple treatment options include:
Keep physically and mentally active, including regular exercise and pursuing hobbies and interests. Quit smoking and reduce your intake of caffeine and alcohol, as they can temporarily worsen the effects of tinnitus. Ask your doctor if there are any medications you are taking that might contribute to tinnitus and if it is possible to reduce or cease any. Do not change your medications without consulting your doctor.
Relaxation and Masking
Surround yourself with pleasant noise to keep your ears busy and mask the tinnitus. This could include playing music, keeping the television on or playing sound tapes (like rain or ocean noises) while you sleep.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
TRT is a therapeutic process aimed at helping you to adjust your reactions and perceptions of tinnitus. It involves retraining your auditory reflexes to block the signal for the noise tinnitus makes. TRT encompasses one-on-one counselling and regular sound therapy with sound generators.
If you would like more information about tinnitus relief and treatment, get in touch with Hearing And Audiology by calling (08) 9388 8003 or enquiring online. We have more than 30 years of experience in audiology and specialise in tinnitus treatment in Perth.