We’ve all experienced a brief ringing in the ears, a minor annoyance that we’re glad to see pass. Unfortunately, however, almost 1 in 5 Americans live with a constant ringing in their ears that never goes away. This condition is tinnitus, and it introduces a (sometimes) debilitating layer of complexity into people’s lives.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s usually a symptom or a commingling condition associated with hearing loss. It most commonly presents along with age-related hearing loss or noise-induced hearing loss.
Much of our hearing depends on the healthy functioning of delicate hairs or nerve cells in the cochlea located in the inner ear. These crucial cells send sound signals to the brain, interpreting sound vibrations into what we perceive as hearing. Unfortunately, aging naturally deteriorates their new function, and deafening noise can do considerable damage, either in an instant or over a long period.
The experience of tinnitus
People who experience tinnitus report hearing sound even when none is present. It’s almost as if those damaged nerve cells of the inner ear have been tricked into working overtime. Instead of only responding to vibrations, signals are sent to the brain without any external stimulation. Most often, a ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound is experienced. However, in far less likely cases, people with tinnitus have reported hearing muted conversations or pieces of music playing!
These sorts of Tinnitus impressions are called ‘phantom noise’ and can range variably in pitch. It also may only affect one ear. But, on the other hand, it may be present all the time or experienced intermittently.
The best ways to treat tinnitus
While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are several proven strategies that lessen its impact.
- Hearing aids: Tinnitus is most commonly caused by undiagnosed hearing loss. As a result, hearing aids are a natural choice for treating tinnitus. Hearing aids increase sound and activate parts of the ear and brain that aren’t getting enough input. When the brain is busy processing real-world data, it is far too preoccupied to generate the phantom or ghost impulses we call tinnitus. According to the findings of a recent hearing survey, 60 percent of tinnitus patients get some alleviation, and around 22% find significant improvement when wearing hearing aids.
- Sound therapy: External noise is used in sound therapy to hide the individual’s impression of tinnitus. Low-volume background music, white noise, or specialist ear maskers can all be beneficial. Tinnitus masking devices provide temporary relief, but when sound therapy is switched off, tinnitus awareness returns. Many hearing aids offer a typical form of sound therapy as a side benefit. A bank of included sounds distracts attention away from tinnitus.
- Relaxation Therapy: Instead of focusing on tinnitus, those afflicted are sometimes encouraged to use mindfulness techniques to draw attention away from the source of their stress and de-escalate the nervous system. Our human brain is ancient. Thousands of years ago, it was in our ancestors’ best interest to focus intently on an irritant or potential danger and solve the problem. This is less helpful in today’s society when that irritant isn’t a hungry tiger but is instead a persistent and annoying ringing in our ears. Mindfulness techniques create new habits for our brains when encountering such irritants to allow them to be present without driving us crazy.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a sort of conversion therapy that assists persons with tinnitus in learning to live with their condition. CBT teaches you how to embrace the sound rather than reducing it. The goal is to improve your quality of life and avoid being driven insane by tinnitus. CBT was initially designed to treat depression and other psychiatric issues, but it appears practical for people who suffer from tinnitus. CBT has been reported to dramatically reduce the discomfort and aggravation associated with tinnitus in several studies and meta-reviews.
Exploring options for tinnitus treatment all start with a reliable diagnosis and a clear conversation with a knowledgeable hearing specialist. If you are suffering from tinnitus, schedule a consultation with us today.