Hearing

Tue, 17 Jan, 2017Georgia Dixon

What everyone needs to read about tinnitus

What everyone needs to read about tinnitus

There are some strange things that most people remember enjoying when they were young. Like the buzzing ringing noise after staggering home from a nightclub that meant they’d had a great time. But what happens when the buzzing noise never stops and there’s no night of music and dancing to make the effects worthwhile?

That’s the frustrating effect of tinnitus – a condition that has no cure and tends to affect people as they age and their hearing starts to deteriorate. The result can be anxiety, depression, irritability, poor concentration and sleep problems.

The good news is that while there’s no cure, there are steps that can be taken to alleviate the symptoms. But it all starts with understanding the cause of the problem. There are many possible triggers of tinnitus. Among the most common are:

  • Exposure to excessively loud noise
  • Extreme stress or trauma
  • Age-related hearing loss
  • Some prescription and non-prescription drugs

It is important to consult your doctor and an Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialist to establish whether there is any underlying treatable medical reason for your tinnitus.

Why the noise?

According to the Tinnitus Association of Victoria, when the brain first hears tinnitus, it tries to classify it from the data bank of sounds it’s familiar with. When it can’t find a “match”, the brain concentrates on the sound much more than it should as it tries to figure it out, causing it to be magnified.

Think of it this way: When you hear a blind knocking on the window sill or floorboards creaking during the day, you don’t think twice about it and the sound is barely perceptible because the brain understands what they are and doesn’t rate them as important. But when you hear the same sounds at night your brain interprets them as a possible sign of danger and magnifies them to warn you.

So when you focus on the sound of tinnitus, the brain interprets it as a danger signal and magnifies it. If it continues, the brain becomes “obsessed” with the sound, and continually focuses on it, keeping the body and mind in a state of high alert. The longer it goes on, the more the negative response to the noise is reinforced – the ultimate downward spiral.

Leading ENT surgeon, Associate Professor Melville da Cruz, says the key to living with tinnitus is to address the underlying issues causing it or at least manage the condition. “If you suspect you may be suffering from tinnitus, make an appointment with your doctor to make sure that it is not a symptom of another condition,” he says. “If there is no connection to any other problem found, an important part of managing your tinnitus is understanding that the problem is common and isn’t anything to be seriously worried about.

“This in itself can ease anxiety and sometimes make the condition seem less apparent. Other simple actions to ease tinnitus include stress management, reducing exposure to loud noises, quitting smoking and easing off on stimulants like caffeine and alcohol.”

Associate Professor da Cruz says if the tinnitus is found to be associated with hearing loss, dealing with the hearing loss usually results in easing the tinnitus symptoms. This can include air conduction hearing aids, night time masking and tinnitus retraining therapy.

“Air conduction hearing aids are an effective solution if the tinnitus is associated with a wider hearing problem,” he says. “When the sufferer can hear every day sounds, this can help distract from the ringing noise, and can also help reduce the perceived volume of the problem. In the case of severe to profound hearing loss, an implantable hearing solution, such as a Cochlear implant, can be more effective.”

Associate Professor da Cruz says intrusive tinnitus can be treated by using other sounds to “mask” the ringing noise, such as recordings of whale noises or the ocean. He says tinnitus retraining therapy can also help by changing the way the sufferer thinks about their condition, which retrains the brain to place less importance on the sound.

To learn more about improving your hearing visit, www.cochlear.com/au/. You can also contact our Cochlear Concierge Team for information, guidance and support at concierge_ausnz@cochlear.com or call 1800 875 212 (Australia) or 0800 445 367 (NZ).

Related links:

Finally able to hear, grandmother of 10 embraces new lease on life

Highs and lows of looking after my hard-of-hearing mother

I was deaf for most of my life

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