Have you ever experienced a ringing or other unidentifiable sound in your ears when there is no other noise present?
If you have, you are a part of the 18 per cent of Australians who are affected by tinnitus at some point in their life. Although anyone can experience tinnitus at any age, it is more common in older Australians as it is usually related to hearing loss.
So what exactly is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is actually a symptom of a hearing malfunction rather than a disease in itself. It is identified as a ringing sound in the ears, which often seems more apparent when in a quiet environment.
It can be quite unnerving to have a consistent ringing sound in your ears, in fact, for some it can be disruptive to their daily lives as it causes a great deal of stress.
There are two classifications of tinnitus – subjective, which only the sufferer can hear, and objective, which can be heard by the sufferer and others. Subjective is the most commonly occurring, while objective can often require further investigation to identify the precise cause.
What causes tinnitus?
The general cause is unknown, however there are a few reasons someone may develop tinnitus.
It usually occurs as a symptom of a wider hearing problem, brought on perhaps by genetics, age, repeated exposure to loud noises, Meniere’s Disease, or a number of other conditions.
Other things that can cause tinnitus include a build-up of wax against the eardrum, or even a tumour on the hearing nerve.
Can it be cured?
There is no cure as such for tinnitus – the key is to address the underlying issue, or at least manage the condition. If you suspect you may be suffering from tinnitus, make an appointment with your doctor to make sure that it is not a symptom of another condition.
If there is no connection to any other problem found, an important part of managing your tinnitus is understanding that the problem is common and isn’t anything to be seriously worried about. This in itself can ease anxiety and sometimes make the condition seem less apparent.
Other simple actions to ease tinnitus include stress management, reducing exposure to loud noises, quitting smoking and easing off on stimulants like caffeine and alcohol.
If your tinnitus is found to be associated with hearing loss, addressing this issue usually results in easing tinnitus as a symptom. The most commonly used and effective treatments include air conduction hearing aids, night time masking and, in some cases, tinnitus retraining therapy.
Conduction hearing aids are an effective solution if the tinnitus is associated with a wider hearing problem. When the sufferer can hear everyday sounds, this can help distract from the ringing noise, and can also help reduce the perceived volume of the problem. In the case of severe to profound hearing loss, an implantable hearing solution, such as a Cochlear Implant, can be more effective.
Masking techniques can be particularly helpful for those with intrusive tinnitus – this can simply involve using other sounds to ‘mask’ the ringing noise, such as recordings of whale noises or the ocean, or it can involve a sophisticated, custom-built device that masks the noise with specific frequencies.
Tinnitus retraining therapy is a behavioural, long-term treatment that works to change the way the sufferer thinks about their tinnitus and demystifies its nature. Therapy with specialists may continue for up to two years.
Tinnitus doesn’t have to cause stress and disrupt the peace of your quieter moments. Talk to your doctor today about finding an effective solution, and enjoy living a life free from irritating background noise.
Do you have tinnitus? How does it affect your life?