Coping with Tinnitus

An Overview of the Current Options for Coping with Tinnitus

While most sufferers will be eagerly awaiting news of a cure that will eliminate these distracting and often debilitating phantom noises, there is, as yet, no way in which it is possible to reverse the condition once it has become established. Instead, the bulk of the research into this phenomenon continues to focus on developing more effective methods for coping with the condition we know as tinnitus.

While, to those who are affected, this ringing in the ears may have all the hallmarks of an illness, it is actually not regarded as such. In fact, it is merely a symptom that is associated with hearing loss, even though the underlying condition may not yet have become evident through any noticeable loss of audition. The link is clearly seen in the classic response to an acoustic shock, such as a gunshot, when the individual exposed commonly experiences a varied degree of muffled hearing, consistent with the volume of the offending sound, accompanied by the characteristic sound of ringing in the ears.

Both the hearing loss and the phantom noises, which incidentally may also take the form of clicking, buzzing, whistling, whining and other such sounds, are the result of damage to the delicate hair cells that line the inner walls of the cochlea. These specialised sensory cells are responsible for converting conducted soundwaves into the neural impulses required for interpretation by the brain. The physical damage not only results in noise-induced hearing loss, but it has been theorised that certain chemicals released in the process may be responsible for anomalous neuro-acoustic activity that, in turn, presents as phantom noises.

Coping with tinnitus is essential if those who experience it are to maintain a normal lifestyle. In the absence of suitably effective countermeasures, the consequences can be quite devastating. Thankfully, most of those affected only experience relatively minor inconvenience, such as occasional distractions when attempting to concentrate. For those in whom the symptom is more intrusive, however, the effect this may have on their daily lives can be devastating. Frequently, such individuals will be found to experience chronic insomnia, resulting in constant fatigue, a consistent and marked inability to concentrate even on relatively simple tasks, and in many cases, severe depression. Some sufferers may even become so badly incapacitated that they are unable to hold down a job.

Despite such extreme effects and the absence of any realistic prospect for a cure in the foreseeable future, as the result of advances in our understanding of auditory physiology and developments in related technologies, more and more subjects are now learning to manage their condition. Audiologists now offer a number of affective options with which their patients can begin coping with tinnitus sufficiently well enough to overcome its distraction, and to revert to their previous lifestyles.

In addition to these prescribed treatments, there are one or two precautions that patients can observe for themselves. For instance, stimulants such as nicotine and caffeine, and depressants like alcohol, can both act to intensify symptoms, so their use should be limited, especially just before going to bed. Although it is easily said, stress may also intensify symptoms and should be avoided wherever possible.

Formal approaches are essentially fourfold in nature and, given the close association between these purely subjective sounds and varying degrees of hearing loss, the most basic of these is to conduct a hearing test and, if indicated, to supply the patient with a suitable hearing aid. In many cases, the improved sound will be sufficient to mask the ringing effect.

That said, some wearers may still experience phantom sounds, and for them, the best means of coping with tinnitus is likely to be sound enrichment therapy. In this option, some aids may have built-in sound generators designed to fill silent periods with neutral sounds, such as white noise, to mask the ringing. For those without hearing aids, the same effect may be achieved with a CD or smartphone app, and a pair of headphones.

Professional counselling, which may include cognitive behavioural therapy, together with a course of specialised nutritional supplements rich in antioxidant micronutrients, both help to create a more holistic approach to treatment. Used together, they can contribute to a more successful outcome in all cases, but are particularly valuable in those patients whose symptoms may be more intense.

For a professional consultation and therapy to facilitate coping with tinnitus, contact your nearest Ear Institute. There is no need to seek a doctor’s referral.
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