Understanding Tinnitus

More Common than You Think

At some point in their lives most individuals will experience noises in the ears or head in the absence of any external sound. Such phantom noises are termed ‘tinnitus’ and are heard as buzzing, ringing, whining or a variety of other sounds. About ten percent of the population reports regular tinnitus awareness. While most people experience little or no distress from their tinnitus, about one percent of the population experiences associated symptoms, such as anxiety, loss of concentration, depression and insomnia.

A Multi-faceted Neurological Condition

Tinnitus is not a disease process, but rather a symptom of a variety of potential causes, ranging from simple to complex. Rarely is tinnitus linked to life-threatening conditions. In most cases chronic tinnitus is a sign of altered brain function stemming from damaged hearing. In a similar way that an amputee may experience phantom sensations from a missing limb, the auditory association regions of the brain are capable of generating sound when the ear is damaged. Other brain regions responsible for attention and emotions can play an important role in controlling tinnitus awareness too. Chronic distress from tinnitus is generally a sign that other brain regions are involved.

Thought Patterns and External Factors

Neutral reactions to tinnitus help the brain to reduce the signal strength of tinnitus before it reaches our conscious centres. Conversely, negative thought processes may aggravate and perpetuate tinnitus perception, placing the tinnitus sufferer in a vicious cycle of perception and distress. There are also external factors which can affect the level and pervasiveness of tinnitus, such as social isolation, diet, and certain medications. Other health issues have the potential to cause and influence tinnitus, such as anxiety disorders and neck, jaw and dental conditions.


Tips For Coping With Tinnitus

Understand Your Tinnitus

Formal audiology investigations can help to exclude medical causes and can de-mystify the underlying mechanisms to lessen anxiety. There are good resources on non-commercial websites that can help you understand the complex causes and aggravators of tinnitus.

You Are Not Alone

Remember tinnitus is a common human condition, not a unique or little understood condition. Knowledge about tinnitus has increased substantially in the last couple decades and treatment options have become more effective. No longer is it justified for a person with tinnitus to be told that “nothing can be done”.

Maintain A Balanced Perspective

Negative thought processes can exacerbate tinnitus by activating neurological loops within the brain that can perpetuate its perception. The brain regions which restrict tinnitus perception are engaged by neutral emotional reactions to it. In many cases tinnitus perception and associated distress decreases naturally over time.

Treat Hearing Loss

Untreated hearing loss frequently underlies tinnitus and can promote unhelpful changes in brain chemistry and function. Carefully prescribed hearing aids may help to reset the brain regions responsible for tinnitus perception by normalising nerve impulses along the auditory pathways.

Enrich Your Sound Environment

Low level ambient noise can help mitigate tinnitus awareness and may even help to reduce negative associations about tinnitus. The best sounds are those which are relaxing and distracting. There are many apps available today which mimic the sounds of nature. Alternatively put on a fan in a room to generate white noise or open a window to break the silence.

Increase Social Participation

Keeping busy in a positive sense minimizes the negative feelings about tinnitus that can activate unhelpful neurological loops within the brain. Social participation helps to put tinnitus into perspective, both emotionally and neurologically. Boredom and isolation can lead to poor emotional health and bad brain habits as far as tinnitus is concerned.

Maintain Physical Health

Good diet and exercise help maintain healthy functioning of organs, including hearing, and is associated with improved emotional health for combating tinnitus. Moderate caffeine and alcohol, minimize salt, and eliminate nicotine.

Protect Your Hearing

Preventing further noise related hearing damage avoids further alteration of brain function associated with tinnitus perception. Use hearing protection at home as well as work when required, even for brief exposures.

Avoid Misinformation

We live in an age where misinformation abounds on the internet and anecdotes and false assumptions can be presented as fact. When reading up on tinnitus, be selective about the information you absorb. If we were to listen to all personal opinions or assumptions, just about everything in the known universe could be linked to tinnitus. Seek out valid and non-commercial advice to avoid unnecessary expense or misplaced anxiety.