What Is Tinnitus and What Can Be Done For It?

If you suffer from tinnitus, your first question probably is, "Can anything be done about this ringing in the ears?" The answer is YES! A great deal can be done to help. But first you need to understand what it is.

Tinnitus is a phantom auditory perception. That is, a sound heard inside your ears or head when that sound does not exist outside you. Tinnitus is often generated in the brain, but perceived as being heard in the ears. People often refer to tinnitus as a ringing sound in the ears; however it can take many forms, including ringing, chirping, hissing, sizzling, whining noises, or like the sound of rushing air or the humming of power lines. It may be high pitched or low, soft or harsh, faint or loud.

The intensity or loudness of sound(sound pressure) is measured in decibels, abbreviated as dB. Normal conversation typically measures between 40 and 50 dB. A home vacuum cleaner or alarm clock measures between 65 and 85 dB, a coffee grinder 70-80 dB, a blender 80-90 dB, and a garbage disposal around 85-95 dB. A tractor, a truck without a muffler, or shouted conversation measure about 90 dB. Many tinnitus sufferers estimate the noise inside their heads at between 20 and 40 dB, however it more often approaches 8 to 10 dB when measured with an audiometer. A few people, however, experience tinnitus at 75 to 80 or even 90 dB. This intensity may spontaneously vary from time to time, and in different environments. The majority of adults with normal hearing experience occasional tinnitus, described as high pitched ringing in their ears.

Tinnitus affects 20% of all people, and one out of three over the age of 60. Hyperacusis is a related condition where sound is perceived as louder that it actually is. When individuals with normal hearing are placed in a soundproof chamber, 95% develop temporary tinnitus. More than 80% of all patients with tinnitus also have a condition called hyperinsulinemia. We require external sound around us at all times. In the absence of external sound, the human auditory mechanism and brain create internal noise while searching for external sound. I personally lived with both hyperacusis (sensitivity to loud sounds) and tinnitus for several years. I sincerely hope that my personal experiences about both conditions will benefit others greatly. I no longer suffer, and you needn't either.

Certain forms of tinnitus can be explained physiologically, such as when one of the tiny middle ear muscles spasms, vibrating the bones of hearing in the middle ear. Or when throat muscles contract that open the Eustachian tube, or when your Temporo-Mandibular Joint (jaw joint) creates a pull or vibration on your eardrum. An abnormal junction of the skull base with cervical vertebrae has been reported to cause tinnitus. Pulsations of a blood vessel will occasionally be heard inside the head or ears. The most common and most bothersome form of tinnitus, however, is known as SIT: Subjective(only audible to the individual,) Idiopathic(of unknown cause) Tinnitus.

About curing tinnitus, you may ask, "Can I get rid of this noise once and for all?" In the best of situations, it will go away completely. In others, you can reduce the intensity of the sound and train your brain to largely ignore it. To know which situation applies, you first need to determine what's causing your ringing ears. Where do you start? Certainly not by visiting a hearing aid dealer or your family physician, because neither is equipped to provide an adequate examination for tinnitus. Research the subject online. Read articles by knowledgeable authors. Do your homework first. And then visit a qualified Otolaryngologist (ear, nose, throat specialist.) Some causes can be treated and relieved directly. For example, something as simple as ear wax (cerumen) touching the ear drum can cause tinnitus.

Some medicines can make your ears ring, so simply discontinuing the offending medication will generally make the noise go away. In addition to obtaining a hearing test, called an audiogram, your ENT doctor will likely perform more detailed tests of your auditory/vestibular nerves-called the eighth cranial nerves. These tests concern balance as well as hearing, since the two are closely related. You doctor will probably order a CT scan or MRI of your head to visualize your inner ear and surrounding brain areas, especially if you have tinnitus in only one ear. This study is to be certain you do not have a rare and removable growth on the acoustic nerve. An acoustic neuroma is a non-malignant tumor growing along the eighth cranial nerve. These tumors often cause tinnitus, hearing loss, and/or vertigo, and can be surgically removed.

Meniere's disease also causes tinnitus, hearing loss, and vertigo, and is treated with medications and dietary changes. In the vast majority of cases, after the examination and tests provide the very important information about what you do not have, you will be told that your tinnitus is idiopathic (unknown cause) or that it's the result of some past exposure to loud noise that damaged your hearing nerve(s) or inner ear(s.) The inner ear includes the cochlea, a snail-shell shaped organ lined with sensitive "hair cells" that receive sound vibrations and transmit impulses along your acoustic nerve to your brain. Your ears receive and transmit sound, but you actually hear that sound in your brain.

Examination by a qualified specialist described above must never be bypassed. After completing all tests, however, be prepared to hear that nothing can be done for your tinnitus. THIS IS NOT CORRECT. You may be told, "You'll just have to learn to live with it.". Many ENT specialists are sadly uninformed about the highly effective treatment options available today for tinnitus. They may be excellent, well-trained physicians and surgeons, able to correct complex hearing-related conditions, but training often glosses over conditions that cannot be readily corrected with surgery or medications. Your ENT doctor may have been taught that there was no effective surgery or medication for tinnitus, so patients just have to accept it. WRONG!

Anxiety Relief Techniques® is highly effective to relieve the suffering from tinnitus.

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About Dr Charles Smithdeal

Charles Smithdeal, MD, FACS is a board certified Otolaryngologist (Ear, Nose & Throat Specialist), Otologist (Ear Specialist and Ear Surgeon,) and Specialist in Anxiety Relief Techniques® . He is also a former sufferer from intractable Tinnitus and Hyperacusis. Dr Smithdeal is retired from the practice of medicine and surgery. He and his wife, Dr Deborah Smithdeal, PhD, provide personal consultation for tinnitus sufferers with training in Anxiety Relief Techniques® (ART) by special appointment only.

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