Guide to Tinnitus – Ringing in the Ears
What is that ringing?
If you’re hearing phantom noises in your ears, you’re not alone. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD),
“Roughly 10% of the U.S. adult population, or about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.”
Tinnitus, otherwise known as a “ringing of the ears,” is the phenomenon in which people hear sounds that are not caused by an external stimulus. The sounds may be a ringing, but also may appear as a clicking, rush of air, or whistle. Regardless of how they appear, tinnitus is a frustrating and distracting condition that has potentially be linked to increased levels of stress and anxiety, as well as health related issues due to sleep deprivation.
There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus occurs when only the person who experiences the sound can hear it. Often times, subjective tinnitus indicates damage to, or malfunction in, the outer, middle, or inner part of the ear. On the other hand, objective tinnitus is can be heard by people sitting nearby and often indicates problems with the cardiovascular system, such as high blood pressure.
What causes tinnitus?
There are no definitive causes for tinnitus. Tinnitus may occur as a byproduct of hearing loss. Some studies have found that when inner ear hair cells are severely damaged, they resemble small trees flattened by heavy winds during a storm. In the auditory system, hair cells receive the vibration of sound waves and translate these impulses into signals sent to the brain to be registered as sound. With noise-induced hearing loss, these hair cells may continue to send signals to the brain, even though there is no external stimulus from sound waves. There are also instances where antibiotics cause the death of inner ear hair cells, which may potentially cause tinnitus.
In certain ear-related diseases, such as Meniere’s disease, tinnitus may appear as a symptom. At the same time, an abrupt change in pressure in the ears may cause tinnitus, as well as blockage in the middle ear by impacted earwax. Tinnitus also appears as a symptom of cardiovascular conditions, such as high blood pressure. Small veins within the ear may constrict and this pressure causes the phantom sounds.
Are there cures for tinnitus?
If tinnitus is related to cardiovascular diseases, treating those conditions may alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus. Removing impacted earwax may help. In some cases, radical changes in lifestyle (smoking, alcohol use, diet, etc.) may end the symptoms of tinnitus. In other cases, there are no immediate cures for hearing loss. Inner ear hair cells do not regenerate; if tinnitus is caused by damage to these structures, there is no immediate cure.
However, treatments have been developed in recent years to address the frustrating symptoms of tinnitus. Hearing aid manufacturers have produced lines of hearing devices and hearing aids equipped with tinnitus treatment in the form of sound therapy. Soothing sounds have the ability to mask the sounds of tinnitus and also assist the wearer in discerning noises around the symptoms of tinnitus.
Tinnitus Treatment Solutions:
In some cases for those with hearing loss, simply using hearing aids and gaining back the sounds that are missing will decrease or cover up the tinnitus. Sometimes, just using the hearing aids will be enough to decrease the tinnitus annoyance over time even when not wearing the aids. Also, some hearing
aids have built-in tinnitus sound programs that can help some individuals while using the aids to improve communication throughout each day.
Widex Zen Therapy
Zen therapy helps relieve your Tinnitus by playing unique and soothing tones that’s like a spa for your ears. The process first starts with counseling to educate and assist the limbic system to alter negative interpretation of the tinnitus. Next it uses amplification to stimulate the ears and brain to prevent overcompensation. Fractal Tones is next in the process and it’s delivered in a discreet manner that provides acoustic stimulation. The relaxation process is last and it highlights the behavioral exercises and sleep management strategies.
Desyncra is a targeted therapy that’s designed to alter the patterns in neuronal networks and alleviate symptoms that include tinnitus loudness and annoyance. The therapy works towards a long term relief so that it lasts beyond the therapy period. It uses a custom designed iPod and set of headphones to tailor to the patient’s exact tinnitus profile.
External Noise Generators/ Apps
There are sound generators that can be used when sleeping, or during the day, to help drown out the tinnitus. There are also apps that can be loaded on to your “smart” devices that the patient can listen to during the day or while sleeping. These sounds are intended to make the brain recognize the tinnitus and learn to ignore it over time.
Tinnitus Therapy Options
We are fortunate to have an audiologist who specializes in tinnitus. She has evaluated many of the therapies available, and believes the following to be helpful.
Remember, each person may experience a different amount of benefit.
This is a sound therapy where the individual listens to soft chirping sounds specific to their tinnitus pitch for several hours per day. These sounds attempt to break up the neural synchrony (nerve signals) that are thought to be generating the tinnitus perception. This therapy is beneficial for tonal tinnitus and usually provides results that can be noticed in 3-6 months.
This is a sound therapy that involves identifying each person’s specific tinnitus sound(s) and creating a musical therapy that is listened to by the patient a couple of hours per day. This therapy activates most areas of the brain and attempts to include the part of the brain that is activated by the tinnitus. In 3-6 months, or sooner, individuals have seen a decrease in the annoyance or loudness of their tinnitus.