“There is nothing you can do about your tinnitus, you will just have to live with it”.
Sounds a bit cold and disparaging, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this was commonly heard by people with tinnitus seeking help in the past. Research on tinnitus has been increasing over the years resulting in a better understanding of the condition and methods of treatment.
But first, what is tinnitus? Tinnitus (pronounced either /tinn-it-us/ or /tinn-ite-us/) refers to a sound that appears to be coming from one or both ears but is not related to an external stimulus. It is often described as a ringing, buzzing, or humming sound, and can vary in pitch and loudness. It can be constant or intermittent.
Where does tinnitus occur and why? Current research widely recognizes tinnitus as a disorder involving more than one portion of the auditory and/or central nervous system. The “why?” is difficult to explain in a short article. Many theories cite abnormal neural activity as one of the causes of tinnitus. As hearing loss can disrupt normal neural activity, it is not surprising that nearly 80% of individuals with tinnitus also have hearing loss.
Who can develop tinnitus and when? Approximately 10% of the general population report having tinnitus, yet only 10-20% of suffers seek medical attention. Both adults and children are susceptible. It is often more noticeable when in a quiet environment.
So, what can be done to help? Many products or treatments exist that claim to reduce or cure tinnitus, such as invasive surgeries, tinnitus-specific medications, or implantable electrodes. There is little evidence to support these as effective treatments.
Rather, treating tinnitus involves an integrated approach consisting of several components. Some of these include: sound therapy, cognitive behaviour therapy, counselling, and relaxation training.
Sound therapy includes the use of use of hearing aids and sound enrichment strategies. Hearing aids provide an enriched sound environment and can alter signals through the auditory and/or central pathways. They also reduce fatigue and stress which can reduce tinnitus. Many hearing aids have tinnitus-specific programs that can be activated as part of treatment. Using hearing aids in conjunction with appropriate counselling and planning can drastically improve the quality of life for someone with tinnitus.
If you are suffering from tinnitus, it is important to see an audiologist for a full hearing assessment. There are treatment options available and you no longer have to “just live with it”.
Curt Culford, B.Sc. (Hon) Psyc; M.Cl.Sc. Aud, Reg. CASLPO Audiologist
The Ida Institute in Europe has great resources for people with hearing loss and hearing care professionals alike. Check out http://www.tinnituskit.com/ for useful information.