Tinnitus is a condition where people hear sounds which are not actually present externally. These sounds might be described as ringing, buzzing, humming, etc.
Most of us have experienced temporary ringing ears after exposure to loud sounds like music at a rock concert. For about 15% of the population, tinnitus is constant daily. . Luckily, the majority of people are able to ignore their tinnitus most of the time without intervention. For those whose lives are impacted by their tinnitus, many have been told there is no cure for tinnitus and they must learn to live with it. We now know that there are many things people can do to lessen the impact the tinnitus might be having on their lives.
The first step is to try to determine the cause of the tinnitus.
It might be caused by jaw problems or a medication’s side-effects. For most people, tinnitus develops with the onset of hearing loss. Research suggests that the brain tries to over-compensate for the reduction of sound being heard and thus creates its own sound in the absence of certain sounds. The use of hearing aids is often a very successful treatment to stimulate the part of the brain which had been previously under-stimulated due to the hearing loss. A good analogy to explain this would be a candle burning in a room. Think of the candle as the tinnitus. If there is some hearing loss, the room has been somewhat darkened with the absence of some sounds. If we provide amplification to these sounds, it’s like turning on the lights in this room. A candle is much less obvious on a lit room compared to a dark room.
Another modern treatment is sound therapy. Calming music similar to wind chimes can be played in people’s ears via a program on their hearing devices. Our goal here is to encourage the brain to ignore or habituate to the tinnitus. If we can ignore the feeling of our feet on the floor and a watch on our wrist, we are also capable of ignoring the tinnitus. We just need to convince our brains that this is an unimportant sound which is safe to ignore.
For most people, their tinnitus bothers them when they are in quiet. Avoiding silence is therefore the number one rule for dealing with tinnitus. For some people, this is even important when they are falling asleep. A fan in the room or another sound generator which does not demand attention is often beneficial. Getting a good night’s sleep can also help reduce the impact of tinnitus as many people find their tinnitus to be worse when they are tired.
If you have tinnitus, the first step is to have a hearing assessment by an audiologist. They can answer your questions and guide you to your options if any treatment is required.