Tinnitus is a ‘phantom’ auditory sensation heard when there is no such external stimulus.
Tinnitus can be subjective or objective. Subjective tinnitus means only an affected person can hear a sound. However, with objective tinnitus, the sound can also be heard by someone else. Your doctor or audiologist will be able to let you know which category your tinnitus falls in when he or she does an examination.
The central auditory system identifies and prioritizes information, and makes decisions on which sounds must be attended to and which sounds must be ignored.
This ability has a crucial role in understanding tinnitus.
There is a close relationship between tinnitus and psychological distress
Tinnitus sufferers might experience many problems such as depression, anxiety, insomnia and other sleep problems. Ironically, your reaction to tinnitus determines how prominent the sensation is.
It is assumed that tinnitus is the result of increased spontaneous activity in auditory nerve fibers.
When your brain receives a tinnitus sensation it checks it and tries to categories it and assign it meaning. But when your brain does not find any meaning for tinnitus, the sound becomes focused and amplified – especially when someone has a negative thought and is worried about it.
Tinnitus becomes louder and more persistent by focusing, worrying, and thinking about it.
Conversely, once your brain recognises tinnitus as non-threatening, the amplification goes away.
Keys to successful tinnitus management
- Retraining your brain to ignore tinnitus: requires a combination of sound enrichment and counselling to help people change their negative reactions to their tinnitus
- Avoiding extreme silence: to provide a sense of relief from tinnitus
- Overcoming any fear and worries: to reduce negative emotional response to tinnitus
- Habituation: to believe that tinnitus is not important and ignore it
- Sound therapy: to distract yourself from listening to tinnitus
- Listening to relaxation CDs or DVDs or doing relaxation exercises
Apart from the above ways to manage your tinnitus, the use of some medication and hearing aids with tinnitus masker are also considered helpful for tinnitus treatment.
Hearing aids and tinnitus
Tinnitus is usually localised towards the affected ear which has a hearing loss. Hearing aids are usually offered to a person with tinnitus who has associated hearing loss. The aim is to increase the stimulation of the auditory system by external sound so the brain will pay less attention to tinnitus, essentially ‘hearing around’ the tinnitus.
Modern hearing aids such as the Blamey Saunders hearing aids can be set to meet your own hearing needs. Most clients will not hear their tinnitus while they are using a hearing aid.
If your hearing aids is not set properly it can make you more aware of your tinnitus. If so, consult your audiologist to help you adjust your hearing aid.
Better hearing can lead to reducing awareness of tinnitus.
Hedyeh is an audiologist at Blamey Saunders hears, and is their resident tinnitus specialist.
For more information regarding tinnitus treatment, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.