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Whilst most people experience the condition at some stage, almost one in every five Australians experiences an enduring or recurring “ringing in their ears” – known as tinnitus.
The ringing or hissing sound in one or both ears occurs even in total silence and may appear to be coming from inside the sufferer’s head. It can be a single noise or a combination of sounds. The severity and regularity also differs between sufferers.
Tinnitus is NOT a disease, it is commonly a symptom of an auditory or sensory fault in the hearing system sometimes caused by a stressful event on the ear.
The information in this leaflet identifies potential causes and methods for managing the condition.
What can cause tinnitus?
Almost anything that has the potential to affect a person’s hearing can also lead to the condition. Research has identified the following as potential causes of tinnitus:
- Extreme Noise – the most common cause. Both long-term exposure and sudden loud noises can trigger a permanent hearing loss that results in tinnitus
- Hearing Loss – having to strain to hear can raise tinnitus levels
- Some Medications – tinnitus can be a side effect of common medicines such as antibiotics and arthritis pills
- Stress & Fatigue – high stress levels and a poor night’s sleep can combine to make tinnitus worse
- Caffeine – tea, coffee, colas and chocolate can all increase the severity of tinnitus, along with food and drinks containing quinine
- Smoking – can create tinnitus by restricting the blood flow through your ear canal and limiting the supply of oxygen
- Alcohol – red wine and champagne are well known for setting off tinnitus
Unfortunately, research has yet to discover a cure for the condition. Furthermore, as there are varying causes of tinnitus, hearing professionals concentrate instead on “management” rather than solutions. The rule of thumb is: “Treat the medical source of tinnitus to efficiently manage its effects”.
Will a hearing aid help?
Applying this rule of thumb – if hearing loss and tinnitus are both present, a hearing aid is likely to reduce the problem – some wearers have reported that it alleviated the condition completely!
This is further reason to support the notion that any significant hearing loss should be treated with the fitting of suitable hearing aids. Hearing aids ease the strain and improve your overall listening ability. For this reason, a digital hearing aid can greatly alleviate tinnitus for many sufferers.
However, as hearing loss occurs gradually over time, many people may not even realise that they have a hearing loss – let alone that this is related to an increasing ‘ringing’ in their ears. That is why a full hearing test is the logical first step in addressing tinnitus.
If hearing loss is present, a hearing aid is likely to reduce the problem. Some wearers report that hearing aids have completely alleviated their condition.
Other treatment options
Another option to help people manage is the use of a Therapeutic Noise Generator, a device which looks like a hearing aid and is recommended for people with no hearing loss. It produces a blend of external sounds that stimulate fibers of the hearing nerve, helping deviate attention away from the tinnitus.
Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), offered by clinical psychologists, can also be effective in alleviating distress and adapting to tinnitus. CBT is threefold: changing the way a person perceives tinnitus; teaching ways to focus attention away from tinnitus; and achieving control over stress.
For the vast majority of people there is no specific surgical procedure that provides a treatment for tinnitus. However, following successful surgical treatment for some ear problems, tinnitus may sometimes disappear (e.g. otosclerosis, middle ear effusion). Accurate diagnosis and treatment of Meniere’s disease may also result significantly reduced tinnitus.
There is some school of thought that herbal remedies and Vitamin B12, taken under medical supervision, may be helpful for some people. It really depends on the cause of the tinnitus and we recommend that you consult a specialist to discuss these options.
Where tinnitus is related to a jaw alignment problem, it is treatable. If you suspect this is a possible cause, it is worthwhile consulting your dentist.