Expert explains how to ease the discomfort of ghost ringing noises: ScienceAlert
Not a week goes by that I don’t see someone in my clinic complaining about a constant, strange phantom sound in one or both ears. The noise is loud, distracting and scary – and it doesn’t go away.
The type of sound varies from patient to patient: buzzing, blowing, hissing, ringing, roaring, rumbling, hissing or a combination of these. But whatever the sound, the condition is called tinnitus. And one thing that tinnitus patients have in common is that the sound is not external. Instead, the noise is literally in their head.
As a neurotologist – he’s an ear specialist – I’ve seen about 2,500 patients with tinnitus in my 20 year career. That may seem like a lot, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise – up to 15% of the US population has tinnitus. That’s over 50 million Americans.
About 20 million of them suffer from painful chronic tinnitus and 2 million more struggle with it. extreme and debilitating tinnitus. The condition seems to strike middle-aged people the most, but I’ve seen younger patients and even teenagers with tinnitus.
Frustration with doctors
What causes the noise? Some researchers say that tinnitus is generated in the ear. Others hypothesize that it happens in the brain. But no one is sure. At the moment, there is no cure.
Unfortunately, as many patients have told me over the years, many doctors are dismissive about tinnitus. They say little or nothing can be done, tell the patients to live with it, and say goodbye. This unsympathetic attitude leaves patients disappointed and angry.
Of course, tinnitus is incurable. But it’s also true that hearing care professionals have many strategies to help patients cope. For most people, a lot can be done to ease the discomfort.
Much of this condition remains a mystery, but clinicians and researchers know that loud noise can trigger tinnitus. Firearms, power tools, heavy machinery, MRI scans and loud music from a single rock concert are often the culprits. Just exposure to loud noise – what doctors call acoustic trauma – can trigger tinnitus, although in most of these cases it is temporary.
This is why many people in the military have tinnitus, possibly acquired after exposure to heavy gunfire or noise from vehicles and aircraft. In fact, more than 2.5 million veterans receive disability benefits for tinnitus.
Other factors that can cause or contribute to tinnitus include sinus infections, feversflu, emotional stress, caffeinenicotine, alcohol and some medications, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. When people stop drinking these beverages or taking medication, the tinnitus usually goes away or at least is reduced.
The keys to recovery
People who suffer from tinnitus should have an ear exam to rule out simple causes such as earwax buildup, infection, or a hole in the eardrum. They must also undergo comprehensive hearing test to assess his tinnitus.
By the time they see a doctor, many patients are already caught in a cycle of stress: tinnitus increases stress, stress then increases tinnitus, which increases stress, and so on.
This is why it is essential that the doctor reassures them that the tinnitus is not dangerous or life threatening, or a sign or symptom of something more serious.
This simple reassurance is often enough for most people to successfully manage their tinnitus. The goal is to get patients to a place where the condition doesn’t distract them while they go about their daily lives or prevent them from sleeping at night.
Treatments that can help
Background noise often drowns out tinnitus, and many external sources work. Youtube has many sound generating videos which can help cancel out the uncomfortable sound, and some of them have black screens which will run all night.
Free apps for smartphones are available; for some people, air conditioners, fans, sound equipment, television and radio can be effective in masking tinnitus.
There is also sound-producing devices that fit into the ear to help fight tinnitus. Programmed by an audiologist, these sound masks emit a tone at the same pitch as the user’s tinnitus, helping to neutralize internal sound. These devices are generally not covered by insurance companies or Medicare.
For people who are hard of hearing, a regular hearing AIDS can camouflage tinnitus by introducing background noise while helping patients hear.
Some types of antidepressants and anxiolytics work.
Another approach is cognitive behavioral therapy – i.e. talk therapy. This especially helps those with other conditions such as the Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, history of concussion or other traumatic brain injury. By reducing this underlying stress, people can learn to live with it rather than fight it.
For some patients, tinnitus rehabilitation therapy works. It combines cognitive behavioral therapy with a programmed noise canceling device that plays pleasant music – with the patient’s tinnitus tone embedded in the music.
The theory is that because the patient associates the tinnitus with pleasant music, the tinnitus no longer triggers anxiety or stress. Studies show 80% of patients derive at least some benefit of therapy.
But beware of the many supplements on the market that claim to cure or reduce tinnitus. No scientific study has ever shown that these supplements cure this condition.
Other types of tinnitus
People who hear their pulse in one or both ears – this is called pulsatile or pulsatile tinnitus – should consult a doctor. The cause of pulsatile tinnitus, often described as a whistling sound coinciding with the pulse, may be due to an abnormality in one of the blood vessels near the ear. Often these abnormalities are treatable and the pulsatile tinnitus can be reduced or even eliminated.
Similarly, those who complain of a by clicking or typing tinnitus should also be further assessed, as well as those awakened by noise; this may be a sign of a rare form of tinnitus.
There’s some additional good news here. For many tinnitus patients, the passage of time can make a huge difference. It may take several months or even a few years, but at some point the condition often resolves largely on its own – and its impact is greatly diminished.
Bradley Kesserprofessor of otology and neurotology, University of Virginia.
This article is republished from The conversation under Creative Commons license. Read it original article.