One of the most common questions, and complaints, we get from patients is about the ‘ringing’ in their ears! Tinnitus (pronounced tin·ni·tus or tin-night-us), is the sensation of sound in your ears or sometimes in your head. Each person with tinnitus has a different sound experience; for most it is described as a ‘ringing’ sound, but many patient’s also report ‘shooshing’, ‘buzzing’, ‘whooshing’ sounds – similar to the sounds inside a conch shell or crickets.
Too many people dismiss the ringing, when in fact this sound essentially represents an internal alarm letting you know that something is wrong. Whether the tinnitus is constant, only noticeable in a quiet room or at night, pulsating or seems to have certain triggers (i.e., exercise or caffeine), it is important to determine the root cause of the problem and seek treatment from a hearing healthcare provider. You can find your local trusted hearing healthcare specialist at www.excellenceinaudiology.org.
Understanding Tinnitus: The Numbers & The Science.
Nearly 50,000,000 American adults live with tinnitus. Some people only notice their tinnitus in a quiet room, whereas many others experience the sound all day long – and it can interfere with daily life. In some people, the sound can cause depression, anxiety and affect concentration. Patients often ask, “what is causing the ringing in my ears?”. For most people, the cause is internal damage to the hearing system. For some they notice the tinnitus with some difficulty hearing, and others report experiencing tinnitus with normal hearing.
These deficits in the hearing system are a normal part of aging, but often exacerbated by exposure to loud sounds (i.e. at work, mowing the lawn, concerts, etc.), medications (i.e. pain meds such as aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen) and from a fall or bump to the head. Unfortunately, once the damage is done it is permanent.
Understanding Tinnitus Triggers
For many patients, the ringing can be nearly undetectable throughout the course of the day until they lay down at night or a certain ‘trigger’ ramps up the volume. Here is a list of some common triggers patient’s report as influencing their tinnitus:
- Noise including loud music, power tools, guns, motorcycles, noisy vacuums, etc. can often ramp up the volume of tinnitus. Hearing protection is recommended and comes in all shapes and sizes. You can find your local hearing healthcare specialist at www.excellenceinaudiology.org to help you find the right protection for you.
- Alcohol and recreational drugs can exacerbate tinnitus in some individuals. Toxins introduced to the body can have a range of effects on our nervous system, including impacting the nerves that create the false perception of sound (i.e., tinnitus).
- Caffeine, a nervous system stimulant, can increase the volume of tinnitus for many people. People are encouraged to determine if increased intake of caffeine found in coffee, tea, chocolate, and many cola drinks is a trigger for their tinnitus.
- Nicotine has a direct effect on our vascular system, which can influence blood flow to the ears. This toxin can ‘suffocate’ the oxygen required by the ear and thereby compromise neural signals to the brain that carry the sounds of tinnitus.
- Pain medications including aspirin, ibuprofen and acetaminophen can cause ‘flare-ups’ of tinnitus as they can directly compromise hearing.
- Stress levels are significantly linked to increasing one’s perception of tinnitus.
Understanding Tinnitus: Treatment Options
Unfortunately, too many people have been told ‘there is nothing you can do about the ringing’.
This is not true!
While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are valid, effective, and science-approved treatment options available to reduce, and in some cases, eliminate the ringing.
Below are the most effective treatment options available.
The Medical Treatment of Tinnitus
The most effective and proven treatment option for patients suffering with tinnitus is provided by an www.ExcellenceInAudiology.org hearing healthcare provider. The F.D.A. (Food and Drug Administration) has approved treatment for individuals with tinnitus by providing the brain with restored sound stimulation. While most people with tinnitus also suffer with hearing loss, that is not always the case. Fortunately, newly available prescription technology can effectively reduce tinnitus in people with hearing loss and with audiometric ‘normal hearing’. Done properly, 86% of patients experience significant relief from their tinnitus, including some who note the tinnitus is eliminated.
Additional options are available to help support those experiencing tinnitus:
Tinnitus and Melatonin:
Our bodies ability to fight back against the ringing may be supplemented with a regular dose of melatonin. Several medical journals have reported on the impact of supplements on tinnitus. These show that melatonin can significantly reduce the intensity of tinnitus in a majority of people.
Melatonin is our bodies natural chemical to help us sleep better and reduce stress. We should never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep to help our body repair itself from damage, i.e., noise exposure, medications that damage our ears, and even age. In the short-term, better sleep can reduce stress and emotional reaction to tinnitus, which in-turn, reduces the neural activity responsible for the perception of the phantom sounds.
You can learn more about melatonin and tinnitus at www.PreventingDecline.com.
Tinnitus and Brain Training:
‘Researchers found that patients with tinnitus, in the group with tinnitus, had improvements in tinnitus perception, memory attention, and concentration as compared with patients in the control group’. Dr. Piccirillo. Journal of American Medical Association, Otolaryngology
Tinnitus can plague patients… and a limited amount may not perceive a significant difference with the use of NeuroTechnology™ to restore stimulation to the auditory system and brain. Fortunately, exciting new research was recently published in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) that indicates a new BrainHQ game can significantly reduce a patient’s perception of tinnitus.
This study found that using certain brain exercises on the BrainHQ platform can help patients cope with tinnitus. Yes, the results are the first of their kind, and need more investigation, but the results are promising! On the behavioral and cognitive self-report instruments, researchers reported no significant differences between the group who did the exercises and the control group that did not. But when asked if their tinnitus had changed since the start of the study, 50% of people who had used the BrainHQ exercises said it had improved, with 30% saying it had much improved.
The scientists also looked at the brains of the study participants with MRI imaging. These MRI images showed significant differences between the two groups: those who used the Brain- HQ exercises showed strengthening in areas of the brain associated with control and attention.
There is still significant research to be done in this area - there needs to be new exercises and improvements to the existing set—but seeing brain plasticity in patients with tinnitus is a great start!
Take your first step towards living with less tinnitus by visiting www.excellenceinaudiology.org and find your local Tinnitus Certified Specialist.