Tinnitus is a condition where noises are heard within the ear or head, and the only one able to hear this noise is the person themselves. It can also be a major contributor to the hearing difficulties associated with deafblindness. The sounds which a person experiences vary widely. Some experience just one sound whereas other experience a mixture of whistling, ringing, buzzing and rushing noises. If the sounds are loud enough then they can have a serious effect on the persons day-to-day life. Luckily, the majority of people suffering from tinnitus report that the sounds they experience are generally very quiet. The condition can occur in a sporadic pattern or can be a constant feature. Tinnitus is also more common amongst people who are hard of hearing or deaf but can also occur in those whose hearing is fine. Although tinnitus is not a life-threatening condition, it is highly frustrating for those who suffer from it.
The exact causes of tinnitus are not currently known, but problems are usually found within the hearing mechanism itself. There's many possible causes which include problems with the external or middle ear such as wax, fluid in the middle ear, otosclerosis or chronic infection of the middle ear. Fortunately, these conditions are usually highly treatable. Exposure to excessive noise is thought to be one of the main causes of inner-ear tinnitus; this occurs when the tiny cells of the cochlea are damaged.
The most common way of treating tinnitus is to provide sufferers with a hearing aid in order to bring more sound into the ear; which can help mask the tinnitus sounds. The hearing aids have the added benefit of helping to improve the hearing quality of the sufferer. Other tinnitus maskers use a variety of different sounds to cover the many noises associated with tinnitus. For those who suffer constant tinnitus sounds, there are pillow maskers available which can help the sufferer to sleep during the night. And some sufferers prefer to use a radio or alarm clock to act as a simple pillow masker. Stress is a common symptom in those suffering from tinnitus and many find that lifestyle changes can help them to relax and prevent exacerbating the condition. Commonly prescribed relaxation techniques include yoga, meditation or relaxation classes which have been shown to reduce stress and have a positive effect on sufferers. Research has indicated that certain dietary changes can also help reduce the symptoms of tinnitus. Reducing caffiene and chocolate intake has been shown to help reduce tinnitus symptoms in many sufferers.
In addition to the wide variety of maskers available there's a huge number of potential treatments which have had varying degrees of success treating tinnitus. Amongst the most popular are;
- Gamma Knife radiosurgery
- Shielding of the cochlea via a teflon implant
- Clearing the ear canal
- Drugs and nutrients such as Lidocaine, Benzodiazepines, Tricyclics, Zinc, Carbamazepine, Melatonin and vitamin combinations
- Electrical stimulation
- Direct stimulation of the auditory cortex through implanted electrodes
- Cognitive behavioural therapy.