Medication, Counselling and Sound Enrichment Promise Relief for Tinnitus SufferersAlthough it is a common accompaniment to hearing loss, the worldwide incidence of “ringing in the ears” or tinnitus is, at 15%, around three times more prevalent, and many of its victims are desperate for some form of relief. In the United States, for instance, the number experiencing this phenomenon to varying degrees is estimated to be around 50 million, with roughly 40% of these burdened by chronic symptoms, and perhaps as many as 2 million severely debilitated by their effect on their concentration, their sleep, and even their ability to work. Perhaps the most alarming statistic, however, is that the incidence has doubled between 2000 and 2015. Furthermore, there is every reason to believe that the proportion of citizens affected in most countries is likely to be quite similar.
As is the case with hearing loss, most of the factors leading to this condition are well known and are also quite similar in nature. For instance, it is almost a certainty that anyone who is reading this article will have experienced a loud noise, such as a gunshot or an exploding firework that, on at least one occasion, will have left them with temporary deafness, along with some manifestation of tinnitus. Relief in such isolated cases is normally quite spontaneous, but it can often take a day or two before the intrusive sounds subside entirely, and one’s hearing returns to normal.
However, when such exposures are repeated, before the ears have had a chance to recover naturally, there is every chance that both the hearing loss and the phantom sounds will become chronic. The mechanism that results in the formation of these inappropriate noises is thought to be due to the release of free radicals that damage the delicate hair cells lining the cochlea and release glutamate, a toxin that can cause heightened activity in the hearing centres of the brain and lead to these phantom sounds. Damage to these hair cells also supresses the nervous impulses required for the transmission of normal sounds to the brain, and accounts for the loss of hearing.
Seen as a symptom rather than a medical condition, the ringing is just one of the sounds that sufferers may experience. Others include clicking, buzzing, roaring and hissing, while in rare cases, some subjects have even reported hearing sounds that appear to resemble music or voices. Where these sounds are audible only to the subject and not to an examining physician, the phenomenon is referred to as subjective tinnitus and, although various forms of relief are available with which to manage its effects, up until now, medical researchers have come up with no scientifically-validated means with which to cure those affected by this inappropriate perception of sounds.
The current means available for the management of this condition comprises of four possible options. Firstly, as stated earlier, the phenomenon is commonly associated with hearing loss and many sufferers find that once they have been fitted with hearing aids, these previously intrusive noises are masked by the enriched sound environment to the point where they no longer cause the wearer a significant problem. For those less fortunate, however, medication, counselling, and the use of more relaxing tones to provide sound enrichment are all viable options, and will be the most effective when undertaken together.
Understanding the condition is the first step in learning to cope with it, so counselling by an experienced audiologist can play an important role in tinnitus relief. Given the known relationship between free radicals and the debilitating noises, medication containing antioxidant micronutrients has the ability to reduce inflammation, and improve aural health in general. Known as Hearing Health Bio Armour, a product available in South Africa from Ear Institute clinics, is recommended both for the prevention and reduction of damage to the inner ear caused by free radicals. A six-month course is sufficient to achieve saturation for prophylactic purposes, while those with chronic symptoms will best benefit from indefinite use.
Finally, a method that is proving effective at masking this distracting and often debilitating sensation is sound enrichment. The sounds of natural phenomena, such as breaking waves and gentle rainfall, and even white noise, can all serve to relax the subject and distract the listener from the inappropriate ringing, clicking or buzzing sounds. These are available on CD or as a smartphone app, some hearing aid models even include a noise generator for this purpose. Consult Ear Institute for more information on effective tinnitus relief.