What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is from a Latin word which means ‘ringing’. It is a ringing, whistling, buzzing or a multitude of different sounds which is heard ‘in the ear’ or ‘in the head’.
What causes Tinnitus?
It may be due to underlying ear diseases like ear infections, ear tumors, wax accumulation or viral inflammation of the inner ear. It can also be due to irreversible conditions like noise induced deafness or age related deafness. Uncontrolled hypertension may cause tinnitus. Very often no obvious cause for the tinnitus is found (idiopathic tinnitus).
What are the Effects of Tinnitus?
Prolonged tinnitus can cause undue anxiety and stress because it can be intrusive and patients worry that they may have an underlying tumor or are becoming deaf. Unfortunately, anxiety and stress can make the tinnitus sound even louder. Some patients may have difficulty sleeping. It can also have a negative impact on daily work and social activities.
Does Tinnitus cause Deafness?
Most patients with tinnitus have hearing loss but research indicates that it does not cause deafness.
How is Tinnitus Evaluated?
A medical history, physical examination and hearing test will help to identify where the tinnitus is coming from. A MRI scan may occasionally be required to rule out a tumor growing on the hearing or balance nerve. These tumors are rare but they can cause tinnitus.
Can Tinnitus be Treated?
Treatment of any underlying ear disease with medication or surgery could be the solution. Idiopathic tinnitus can go away on its own, but in general there is no specific drug or operation to get rid of idiopathic tinnitus or tinnitus due to noise induced and age related deafness. In such instances we use counselling and coping strategies to reduce the effects of this condition.
Sound therapy works by reducing the difference, or contrast, between tinnitus sounds and background sounds. It helps the auditory system to habituate by becoming less ‘tuned in’ and sensitive to tinnitus. Sound therapy should not be used to mask the tinnitus rather it should mix/blend with you tinnitus.
Environmental sound therapy uses background natural sounds like a noisy fan, traffic flowing through a window, table fountain or low level music or nature sounds.
Relaxation techniques like breathing exercises to reduce stress are a very helpful part of tinnitus management
These are thought stopping techniques that work by reducing the focus on tinnitus.