Tinnitus—the myths and the facts

Tinnitus is the name given to abnormal noises such as ringing, clicking, humming or whistling in the ears or head. They create discomfort and stress in varying levels for many people. According to the 2011–2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, around 15% of the American population suffer from tinnitus[1] with some 45% of those people suffering chronic or severe distress including sleep deprivation[2].

Tinnitus is not a new malady but in today’s increasingly noisy environment, it does seem to be increasingly prevalent. Tinnitus is one of those invisible ailments that, historically, has not received much research funding and tends not to garner much sympathy from the medical profession or non-sufferers and this can increase the feelings of distress for sufferers. All too often, the long-suffering patient is dismissed with the comment, ‘it’s all in your head’.

In the face of such ignorance, it is helpful to debunk the myths and arm yourself with the facts.

 

Myth no. 1:   Tinnitus is just a figment of your imagination

In most cases, tinnitus is inaudible externally and the noises are not in fact in your ears. Current research suggests that tinnitus is the brain’s response to some hearing loss or damage. The brain is endeavoring to replace sound frequencies that are missing from your hearing range by creating noise.

Studies have demonstrated a close correlation between the frequency of tinnitus noise and the region of hearing loss in most sufferers. In other words, tinnitus is a noise created and perceived by the brain. However, it is definitely not a figment of your imagination.

 

Myth no. 2:   Tinnitus is a disease

No, tinnitus is not a disease. Tinnitus is, in most cases, the result of hearing loss. Other causes may include; head or neck injury, migraine, sinus and middle ear infections or infections such as mastoiditis. Tinnitus is a symptom not a disease in itself.

 

Myth no. 3: Corticosteroids can heal my tinnitus

Doctors have frequently prescribed corticosteroids as a cure-all for tinnitus but the evidence for their efficacy is very weak. In fact, many of these drugs may cause or worsen tinnitus. Other drugs including NSAIDs such as aspirin or ibuprofen also list tinnitus among the possible side effects.

According to the American Tinnitus Association:

“There are presently no FDA-approved drugs specifically for tinnitus, and no medications that have been shown to reverse the neural hyperactivity at the root of tinnitus. Drugs cannot cure tinnitus, but they may provide relief from some severe tinnitus symptoms.”[3]

Various drugs, such as anti-depressants, and alternative medicines may help the sufferer to deal with the distressing symptoms but the Association adds, “there is very little scientific evidence illustrating that any of these medications provide measurable tinnitus improvement”[4].

 

Myth no. 4:  There is nothing you can do about tinnitus

Currently, there is no cure for tinnitus. However, you no longer need to suffer silently. There are a number of things that you can do to reduce your perception of tinnitus and the associated discomfort.

  1. Maintain general wellness and good health.

Evidence clearly suggests that high stress levels and poor diet may increase your perception of the tinnitus noise and, at the same time, decrease your tolerance levels. Maintain a healthy, active life along with your social and recreational activities–it can only strengthen your ability to deal with tinnitus.

  1. Learn some relaxation techniques.

Learning to relax and reduce your stress levels will help reduce the impact of tinnitus on your life. Hypnotherapy, meditation, yoga and biofeedback are just some of the tools you can use to control your response to tinnitus.

  1. Use soothing sound to mask the noise.

Playing gentle, soothing sounds diverts the brain’s attention from the irritating internal noise that can get you down. There are many ways to do this including specialized white noise machines, soft music, or simply the noise of a fan.

A number of commercial machines are now available that use white noise in very specific ways to mask the tinnitus and, eventually train the user to screen out the tinnitus independently. Research indicates some promising success in this area. Acoustic CR Neuromodulation and Neuromonics are two such methods.

Hearing aids are likewise very effective for reducing the discomfort of tinnitus sufferers, with one survey indicating that 60% of sufferers found some relief from tinnitus when wearing a hearing aid[5]. Hearing aids work by increasing the perception of external sounds while decreasing the focus on internal noise.

 

Myth no. 5:  There is no hope for a cure

Although there is currently no cure, research is uncovering some exciting possibilities. One very rich field of exploration lies in the use of electromagnetic stimulation of the brain. The theory is that the stimulation helps to reduce the neural hyperactivity that triggers the tinnitus. Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation, in particular, is showing very promising initial results although more trials are needed.

 

Tinnitus: don’t suffer in silence

Yes, the impact of tinnitus can be a double whammy with hearing loss compounded by distressing internal noise but you can take action to reduce its effects. Remember, you are not alone, seek help.

Come and visit us at https://houseofhearing.ca/ and we can help you explore your options.

 

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes/nhanes2011-2012/AUQ_G.htm cited: http://www.ata.org/

[2] Folmer RL, Griest SE. Tinnitus and insomnia. American Journal of Otolaryngology 2000;21(5):287–293.

[3] http://ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/drug-therapies

[4] http://ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/drug-therapies

[5] http://ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options/hearing-aids