What is Tinnitus?
This name is given to the experience of noises in the head and/or ears, when no corresponding external sound is present. Feelings of pressure and fullness or pain in or around the ears may accompany the tinnitus.
Fifty different sounds have been reported, from high-pitched hissing, sizzling, ringing and buzzing, to chirping, clicking, and low, rushing, booming, roaring, and engine-like sounds; also pulsing and thumping sensations. Several noises may be heard simultaneously.
Tinnitus can begin at any age, including childhood. It affects people in all walks of life. It varies in intensity from mild to severe, and may heard interrmittently or continuously.
People with normal hearing can also have tinnitus. Having tinnitus doesn’t mean that you will lose your hearing.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus may have either a physiological or biochemical origin. Both factors may be involved.
Common Causes: hearing loss, exposure to loud noise, a blow to the head, whiplash injury, and any kind of physical and/or emotional stress.
Less Common: a non-malignant growth on the 8th nerve, fixation of the middle ear bones, and some relatively rare conditions that can be diagnosed by medical tests and scans.
Who Can Help?
An individual’s family doctor (M.D.) can make sure there is no health problem that may underlie the tinnitus, for example, high or low blood sugar, or hypertension.
An audiologist (M.Cl.Sc.), who can test and assess your hearing. The audiologist will try to determine whether the tinnitus might be eased by a hearing aid, a masker (a small, hearing aid-like device that may cover over or distract attention from the tinnitus), or a ‘tinnitus instrument’ that combines both functions. An audiologist can prescribe one of these for you and show you how best to use it.
A Hearing Aid Dispenser can also test hearing, and if a hearing aid, masker or combined unit is needed, will take a mould for a custom-fitted device. Hearing aid dispensers also fill prescriptions from audiologists.
What Can Help?
Relaxation Techniques: deep breathing, hypnosis, bio-feedback, systematic relaxation, therapeutic massage, Yoga, and some forms of physical exercise, most commonly swimming or walking, can reduce tension, stimulate endorphins, and promote better sleep.
Masking and Auditory Re-training: maskers are little hearing aid-like devices that produce a soft, shushing sound, they may be used to cover over (‘mask’) the tinnitus with a more acceptable ‘white sound’.
Another, more recently developed method, Auditory Re-Training uses these same devices with the sound level set so as to be just audible, not masking the tinnitus. When followed for an extended period, this therapy can often induce subconscious ‘habituation’ , so that the tinnitus is no longer perceived as an intrusive, disturbing presence. This method has also been found helpful in reducing extra-senstive hearing.
Other kinds of sounds, such as tapes on a Walkman or small table-top ‘sound-soother’ machines, can provide background sound if quiet surroundings emphasize your tinnitus.