Tinnitus is a sound that is typically heard only by that person. About 50 million people in the U.S. have tinnitus and describe it as ringing, buzzing, roaring, etc. It can be in one or both ears and is a typical side effect of hearing loss. Because tinnitus can be a symptom of more serious conditions, it is important to be evaluated by a physician and have your hearing tested by an audiologist.
What can you do about this noise? Tinnitus is what you make of it. Your brain identifies sounds in your environment and associates it with meaning such as the telephone ringing. If you focus on a sound, the more your brain recognizes it and the stronger the neural pattern becomes. Thus the more you focus on your tinnitus, the stronger the recognition. For many people, their tinnitus is not prioritized and it just blends into the background. For others, it becomes intrusive and annoying.
Tinnitus involves your emotional system as well. You hear the tinnitus, have a negative reaction (i.e. frustration), which leads to anxiety and stress. You continue to hear and focus on it, become more frustrated and stressed, and a vicious cycle begins. Tinnitus can affect your thoughts and emotions (i.e. anxious, depressed, angry), hearing (competing with what you are trying to hear), sleep (difficulty going to sleep), and concentration (difficulty focusing on a task).
For most tinnitus sufferers, there is no cure, but there is help. The goal of treatment is to stop the vicious cycle. The easiest way to start is with Sound Therapy, which uses sounds in your environment to cover over the tinnitus. Always have sound around you (i.e.TV or radio during the day and a sound machine at night). It doesn’t have to be loud, just loud enough to give your brain something to listen to. The use of hearing aids can help tremendously. Hearing aids not only amplify sounds you are missing, some even use a masker to help cope with tinnitus. Treatment programs are available when sound therapy and tinnitus hearing aids are not enough.
Editor’s Note: Article submitted by Sue Vavrock, Au.D., CCC-A, Middle Tennessee Ear, Nose, & Throat, Middle Tennessee Hearing Solutions.