Everything you Need to Know About Tinnitus

Tinnitus TreatmentEvery day, millions of people are affected by a common condition known as tinnitus. It’s estimated that as many as 50 million Americans suffer from some form of this condition, with 20 million suffering from chronic tinnitus and 2 million suffering from extreme, debilitating tinnitus. It is currently one of the most common health conditions in the country.

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. It is often referred to as “ringing in the ears” however, it can also present as buzzing, clicking, whistling, hissing or swooshing sounds. As a rule, it is categorized into two different types:

Subjective Tinnitus – This is the most common. The sounds heard are only perceptible to the patient and cannot be heard by anyone else.

Objective Tinnitus – this is actually very rare, affecting less than 1 percent of the population. The sounds heard are both audible to the patient as well as to others.

What Causes Tinnitus

The causes can be traced to a variety of sources, however the most common source stems from sensorineural hearing loss. In fact, some researchers believe that subjective tinnitus cannot exist without some form of damage to the auditory system.

The reason for this, is due to how the brain processes sound frequencies. In patients suffering from hearing loss, there is less external sound that reaches the brain. As a result, the brain changes how it processes different sound frequencies and tinnitus is oftentimes the product of these changes.

According to American Tinnitus Association, there are approximately 200 different health disorders that can lead to this condition. Hearing loss is the overwhelming cause, however it can also be a result of the following conditions:

  • Middle ear obstructions
  • Head and neck trauma
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder
  • Sinus pressure and barometric trauma
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ototoxic drugs
  • Metabolic disorders
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Vestibular disorders
  • Tumor related disorders

The Impact of Tinnitus

Impact of TinnitusTinnitus is not a one size fits all type of condition. In some individuals it is a chronic daily condition that can significantly impact their quality of life. Others experience it infrequently and it is only a mild distraction to their everyday lives.

While the severity can vary, many people with chronic tinnitus often experience depression, anxiety, mood swings, inability to sleep, irritability, poor concentration and overall distress. Even moderate cases can interfere with an individual’s ability to work or interact with others.

Management and Treatment of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a curable condition, however it CAN be treated and managed effectively. Because it is specific to each individual, treatment options can vary widely. If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is important to work with an audiologist who can build a treatment plan around your unique symptoms as well as your lifestyle. Sometimes, treatment options will need to be combined for the most effective results.

Most Effective Treatments

Hearing Aids – As previously mentioned, hearing loss changes how the brain processes sound frequencies. Hearing aids allow more external sounds to enter the brain, which means that the sounds you can now hear will mask the sounds of tinnitus, providing relief from the condition. Essentially, hearing aids make it more difficult to consciously perceive the sounds of tinnitus and helps the brain focus on outside, ambient noises.

Sound Therapy – This type of therapy works similar to hearing aids. Basically, your audiologist will use a variety of external noises intended to alter the perception and/or reaction to tinnitus. It is based on four general concepts:

 Masking Sounds – exposing the patient to loud external sounds to mask the sound of the tinnitus

Distraction – diverting a patient’s attention away from their condition by the use of other external sounds

Habituation – training the brain to “ignore” the tinnitus

Neuromodulation – utilization of specialized sounds which are designed to minimize the neural activity in the brain producing tinnitus sounds

Behavioral Therapy – This type of treatment focuses on the patient’s emotional response to their condition. It is based on the premise that removing the negative association will help the patient learn to co-exist peacefully with the tinnitus. This type of therapy has been proven to reduce the anxiety, depression and distress of tinnitus and significantly improving the patient’s quality of life.

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