Managing Tinnitus

Managing Tinnitus, Part 1: What’s All The Noise in My Head?

Submitted by admin on Mon, 11/07/2016 - 07:20
Dr. Rex Banks, Doctor of Audiology, Chief Audiologist and Director of Audiology, Canadian Hearing Society

Most people would be surprised to learn that there is an internal alarm system located within their brain that is constantly monitoring the world around them. Basically, our central nervous system is idling in a state of readiness to respond to any type of "red alert" it may encounter. This idling causes "brain noise" that runs in the background. The majority of us are completely unaware of this brain noise until something triggers it to cross a threshold to become audible to some in the form of what’s called tinnitus.

Tinnitus is an auditory perception of a sound in the in the ear that can only be heard by the person experiencing it. Each person who has tinnitus describes it in their own way. Many people report that it sounds like a ringing, buzzing, humming, clicking, whistling or roaring. It can be loud or soft, constant or intermittent, can change in pitch, and be heard in one or both ears. About 15% of the population experiences tinnitus with 5% reporting severely intrusive tinnitus that affects their day-to-day activities.

It’s important to understand tinnitus itself is not a disease, but a symptom. It’s your body’s internal alarm system going off and telling you that something is not quite right. Tinnitus can be caused by a number of health conditions including high blood pressure, head trauma, dental problems, certain types of tumours, hearing loss and much more. Your ears are always working but relax when they find a soothing background sound to listen to. They are geared to naturally want to listen to sound and are always scanning the environment for it. For people with hearing loss, the amount of environmental sound they are exposed to is reduced. This causes their ears to strain to hear what’s around them and all of this straining increases their sensitivity to their internal brain noise which manifests as tinnitus.

So if you do have tinnitus, you should avoid silence as it only intensifies your sensitivity to your internal brain noise. For this reason, hearing aids are often recommended as a front line defence against tinnitus because hearing aids expose people with hearing loss to sound. For those who experience tinnitus but don't have hearing loss, custom ear sound generators may be recommended. In a nutshell, external sound decreases your sensitivity to internal sound.

Continue reading part two of Managing Tinnitus: What's All The Noise in My Head?