"WHAT IS TINNITUS?
"A sound no one else hears In almost every case, tinnitus is a totally subjective noise one that only the person who has it can hear. In rare cases, when the tinnitus is caused by an abnormality in a vein or artery and is in rhythm with the heartbeat, the sound may be audible through a stethoscope placed on the neck or directly in the ear canal.
"A symptom In and of itself, tinnitus is not a disease. It is like pain a signal that something has gone wrong somewhere.
"A worry Tinnitus can be very upsetting. In a way, thats not surprising. Richard Salvis and Alan Lockwoods brain imaging research in the late 1990s showed that in some subjects, tinnitus involves the limbic system the brains emotional center. Our brains seem wired to interpret constant loud noise chronic pain and vertigo too as something to be upset about.
"Since tinnitus is a symptom of something that has gone wrong, that something might need medical attention, such as an acoustic neuroma (a tumor on the auditory nerve). In those cases, the tinnitus is doing a job that is, alerting the patient to a bigger problem. In most cases, though, the tinnitus trips that warning switch in error, and the person with tinnitus feels alarmed and anxious because of it.
"Continuous; Variable For some people, tinnitus is a steady, unchanging noise every waking minute. For others, it is a sound that comes and goes, or a tone that changes pitch through the day. Some have tinnitus thats on for three days and off for one day. The majority of people who contact us have constant, unvarying tinnitus.
"Loud At least it seems loud. For the majority (83.8%) of 1,422 patients at the Oregon Hearing Research Center, the tinnitus volume was 0-9 decibels above their hearing threshold. Thats very quiet. But if that quiet tinnitus is very high pitched, it might not be masked by lower-pitched sounds in the environment. That could make the tinnitus seem louder than the few decibels it really is.
"Intrusive This is the kind we hear about the most, which makes sense to us. People who arent terribly troubled by their tinnitus generally dont call us for help. Constant, intrusive sound can disrupt sleep, family relationships, and ones ability to work and concentrate. When tinnitus is at this level, medical and audiological care are probably in order. It is also imperative that people with tinnitus find a way to get restful sleep. Its an important key in gaining control of the condition.
"Often louder after waking up This is a very common experience, although researchers have not yet gotten to the root of it. We know that the brain is very active in a sleep state, not still at all. We also know that the brain experiences electrical and chemical changes during sleep that it doesnt experience while awake. If you experience the phenomenon of temporarily elevated tinnitus following sleep, you are in good (although slightly perturbed) company.
"Misunderstood, dismissed Go home and learn to live with it. I cringe at these words. And we know theyre being said with baffling regularity. Our battle cry to health professionals is this: NEVER tell patients to go home and learn to live with it unless you tell them how to live with it. We now offer an educational course for health professionals that we hope will help turn that tide.
"Nondiscriminatory Men get it. Women get it. Even children get it. Education levels or income levels are not predictors. Excessive noise exposure is the most common tinnitus cause, but it doesnt matter if the noise is from a rock concert, farm machinery, or artillery fire. Noise is noise; ears are ears. Those whose ears are susceptible to excessive noise are those most likely to be hurt by it.
"Manageable Tinnitus is caused by many things: ear-damaging drugs, jaw misalignment, Ménières disease, head injury, in rare cases a tumor on the auditory nerve. The most common culprit is excessive noise exposure. But regardless of its cause, tinnitus can be relieved sometimes on the spot by sound therapy. Here is the reason: A steady, low-level, broadband sound, like that of rainfall, can reduce the contrast between the patients internal noise and the sometimes too-quiet external world. [Emphasis mine.] Sound therapies, commonly called masking and tinnitus retraining therapy, can make tinnitus less noticeable and, for a lot of people, less troubling. Other treatments, including medications, biofeedback, relaxation techniques, and a particular type of counseling called cognitive behavioral therapy, are helpful too."