tinnitus – ringing ears

Tinnitus is the perception of sounds or noise within the ear with no external sound source. These sounds are often described as ringing, humming or buzzing noises and they can be constant or periodic. For most people, tinnitus does not cause any disturbance and they get use to it, sometimes it even goes away. However, for some people, tinnitus can be significant and interferes with daily life.

What can Cause Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can be triggered by a variety of causes, but is commonly linked to exposure to loud sounds, which can damage the delicate sensory cells of the inner ear. Tinnitus has also been associated with ear infections, ageing, stress, excessive earwax, high blood pressure and sensory nerve disorders. Activities such as smoking, drinking alcohol or caffeine and taking excessive amounts of aspirin or antibiotics may exacerbate Tinnitus.

How Common is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is very common with about 17 to 20% of Australians experiencing Tinnitus at some stage. For most people, natural acclimatisation to Tinnitus occurs and it is not bothersome or can be ignored. However, a small number of people are significantly affected by Tinnitus.

What Is the Initial Reaction to Tinnitus?

When Tinnitus is initially perceived the brain focuses on the sound to determine whether it is friend or foe. This is a natural reaction to new or unusual sounds.
Think about hearing a thumping sound outside your house. You will focus on it to determine whether it is a threat, neutral or a non-threat. You will be anxious if you believe the sound is a trespasser, thus focus on it more. If you believe the sound is from wind, then you will not be anxious and may even ignore it.

This same reaction pathway occurs for most people with Tinnitus. There is the initial focus on it, but then with time Tinnitus can be ignored.

Is Hearing Loss Related to Tinnitus?

Although Tinnitus can occur without hearing loss, it is a common symptom of damage to the ear and hearing.

Even slight hearing loss can cause significant difficulty understanding speech when there is competing background noise. Difficulty hearing in noise can exacerbate stress that plays into Tinnitus.

The First Step – A Tinnitus Assessment

The first step towards managing Tinnitus starts with a hearing and Tinnitus assessment. This assessment is undertaken over an hour appointment with our audioloigist.

At the appointment we want to understand the annoyance level or negative emotion towards Tinnitus and will ask you to undertake a questionnaire.

You will receive a thorough audiological exam that will determine the health of your middle ear, hearing thresholds, ability to hear speech in noise, find what sound levels are uncomfortable and how the ear’s acoustic reflex respond to loud stimuli. In some cases, the audiologist may request further investigation by an ENT (Ears, Nose and Throat) specialist.

As part of the Tinnitus assessment we will undertake measurements to match the pitch and level of your Tinnitus, determine effective masking levels for Tinnitus and how long residual inhibition of Tinnitus can be maintained.

Fee: Tinnitus Assessment $170, appointment approx 60 minutes and includes hearing test, consultation and written report.

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What Help is Available for Tinnitus?

Help for Tinnitus is available. There are many different pathways to help people habituate to their Tinnitus. These range from counselling on Tinnitus, health and lifestyle maintenance through to maskers and hearing aids. What pathway is recommended depends on the severity of Tinnitus and whether there is an underlying hearing loss.

A holistic approach

Managing Tinnitus takes and holistic approach that is tailored to an individual’s need. The pathway for reducing the negative emotions associated with Tinnitus has four components:

  • Counselling

Provides information relevant to you and your Tinnitus to help you change the negative interpretation of Tinnitus

  • Relaxation & Lifestyle

Relaxation exercises and sleep management exercises are often efficient ways of bringing down the stress that can be part of Tinnitus. So too is healthy exercise and reducing lifestyle choice such caffeine, cigarettes and alcohol that can exacerbate Tinnitus.

  • Masking

Maskers can provide an important distractor from Tinnitus that helps to improve relaxation and even sleep. There is a wide range of maskers from white noise to sound therapies based on fractal tones.

  • Amplification

For many who suffer hearing loss with Tinnitus, amplification is the go-to therapy. Amplification can be used to stimulate the ears and brain to reduce the contrast between the surrounding sounds and Tinnitus. Hearing aids are proven to be very effective in decreasing Tinnitus. Furthermore, specialised signal processing and directional microphones can improve speech understanding in noise that often is associated with hearing loss.