Ringing in Your Ears?
Have you ever experienced a ‘ringing’ in your ears after a loud concert or whilst walking through a noisy construction site? This is known as Tinnitus (usually pronounced “Tin-a-tus”) and is very common. Approximately 17-20% of Australians suffer from some form of tinnitus. It is rarely of great medical concern, however, it is often associated with other ear conditions and can also become extremely annoying, and for some people, quite debilitating.
Tinnitus is often associated with hearing loss, ear infections, exposure to loud noise, stress and problems with your neck and jaw. It can be a ringing, buzzing, whooshing, whistling, pulsating or even roaring sound within one’s ears.
Although we all experience tinnitus at some time in our life, if the ringing is persistent and left untreated, it can become debilitating.
The range of causes may include:
• Meniere’s disease
• Extreme stress or trauma
• Loud noises
• Hearing Loss
• Certain medications
• High Blood pressure
• Vascular conditions
There is no medication option that has been proven to ‘cure’, but its impact can be alleviated by ‘retraining your brain’ not to focus on the ringing. This is known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, and can help you ‘put it out of your mind’. Simple exercises can help you to become less aware of your tinnitus, even to the point where you don’t notice it anymore. It is best to discuss your tinnitus with a qualified audiologist, especially if you find any of the following:
• It becomes noticeably louder
• It is present all the time
• It is present in one ear more than the other
• It is low in pitch, and associated with nausea or dizziness
The first step to addressing your tinnitus is to have a full audiological examination. You will be asked if you have tinnitus as a standard question when we take your history, and if so, additional testing will be done to analyse your tinnitus and to ensure the clinician has a full understanding of what you are experiencing. Recommendations for management can then be made.
Once any medical conditions have been excluded, tinnitus can be ‘treated’ by ‘retraining your brain’ not to focus on the tinnitus. When we hear a noise in our head or ear, it is natural for the brain to think this may be a signal that there is something wrong. This causes us to focus on the sound and worry about it. The more we do this, the more we reinforce the neural pathways between the sound and our consciousness.
The aim of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is to acknowledge that the tinnitus is there, but that it is of no concern and to ‘put it out of our minds’. Of course this is easier said than done! However, over the course of a few months and by doing simple exercises such as focusing on other sounds, like a radio or background music, we can become less aware of our tinnitus, to the point where we don’t perceive it anymore.
There are many methods that are effective in reducing the amount you are aware of your tinnitus. It is normal for it to occur “on and off”. The aim of sufferers is to lead a normal, happy life and reduce the perception of the sound. This is known as habituation, and is best achieved by understanding choices on a day to day basis.
Medical tests are important so you can understand the condition. The test is optimized when tinnitus is present. A tinnitus sufferer can hope to reduce their perception of their tinnitus so it is barely noticeable.
For people with a hearing loss, the fitting of a hearing aid can help by focussing our minds on other, external sounds and reducing our perception of the internal tinnitus. Another device that can be useful is a tinnitus masker. This is a small device that sits in the ear and looks like a hearing aid and plays a background sound like the ocean, which takes our mind off the tinnitus.
Practical Tips: Help to Alleviate
• Noise destroys! Tinnitus if often brought on or made worse by very loud noises. If you need to shout to communicate with someone a metre in front of you, it’s too loud! Knox Audiology provides a range of hearing protection to help avoid harming your ears.
• Avoid stress: stress has been shown to exacerbate the condition. Learning strategies to remain calm about your condition and avoiding stressful situations wherever possible.
• Come and see our trained Audiologists: Once any medical conditions have been excluded, tinnitus can be ‘treated’ by ‘retraining your brain’ not to focus on the tinnitus.
• Tinnitus Retraining Therapy can help you ‘put it out of your mind’. Simple exercises can help you to become less aware of your tinnitus, even to the point where you don’t notice it anymore.