Ringing in Ears

Persistent Ringing In the Ears Isn’t Curable But It’s Manageable

For almost everyone, ringing in the ears is a transient sensation that is likely to be experienced on a number of occasions during the course of their lifetimes. The annoying sound is purely subjective and often follows an exposure to a loud noise like a gunshot. Stand long enough close to someone operating a jackhammer and you are also likely to experience, albeit temporarily, the symptom doctors call tinnitus. While in the circumstances described, the phantom sound will normally begin to fade quite quickly and vanish completely within a day or two at the most, some people are less fortunate.

In fact, “some” is a bit of an understatement. It is estimated that more than 360 million people worldwide experience varying degrees of tinnitus. Of these, nearly 40% claim to be affected for as much as 80% of their day. Not all experience ringing in the ears, however. Different subjects report hearing a range of sounds, and some will actually experience more than one. Typically, these include buzzing, whooshing, roaring, screeching, whistling, and hissing sounds, while some report hearing sounds that resemble dialling tones, music, and even voices.

What may be no more than a temporary irritant for one given individual can be a seriously debilitating condition for another. Around one in four sufferers report that their tinnitus is loud while one in five are so badly affected by these intrusive noises that they are more or less disabled. In such cases, the subjects experience difficulty with concentration, social interactions, and sleeping. This will often result in severe depression which, unfortunately, can often act to further intensify their tinnitus.

When the ringing in the ears becomes persistent, the natural reaction is often to ask a doctor for some means with which to cure it. Sadly, however, medical science has, so far, failed to find an effective cure for tinnitus. However, mild sedatives and anti-depressants may sometimes act to reduce the intensity of the offending sounds.

There is strong evidence to support a link between tinnitus and sensorineural hearing loss, suggesting that both may occur as a result of damage to the specialised hair cells lining the region of the cochlea known as the organ of Conti. More than half of tinnitus sufferers display some degree of hearing loss and, quite often, those who are fitted with a hearing aid for the first time will be delighted to find that the newly enriched sound environment has served to mask the ringing in their ears caused by their tinnitus. As a consequence, several masking techniques now feature prominently among the various options available to better manage the symptoms of tinnitus, and thereby enable those affected to lead a fuller, more enjoyable life.

Often, one of the first steps recommended in the quest to ameliorate the effects of tinnitus is counselling. Much like those who may have a chronic condition that causes them pain, there is often a cyclic effect in which fear begets tension which, in turn, has the unfortunate effect of intensifying the symptoms. In this case, an increased awareness of the buzzing, whistling, ringing, or other phantom noise in the ears is the result, rather than pain. A trained counsellor, who may apply a number of recognised approaches, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, will often be able to help a tinnitus sufferer to develop techniques with which to break that fear-tension cycle, and therefore make it easier to cope with their symptoms.

Although recommended as part of any tinnitus management programme, counselling alone is unlikely to suffice in severe cases, so the use of some form of masking technology will invariably prove necessary. For the hard-of-hearing, if a hearing aid alone fails to sufficiently mask the ringing in their ears, an accessory or built-in white noise generator can be a highly effective way to replace the intrusive sounds of tinnitus with something more soothing that poses less of a distraction.

As mentioned earlier, not all tinnitus sufferers will display significant hearing loss, so for them, the white noise needs an alternative delivery system. The options include CDs and tapes but, given that almost everyone now owns a smartphone or tablet, the most convenient option is to make use of a downloadable app developed for this purpose. When you need to concentrate or it’s difficult to sleep, just pop in your earbuds and start the app to mask that annoying ringing in your ears with the soothing sounds of ocean waves or gentle rain.

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