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What is Tinnitus

Dec 9

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12/9/2011 1:39 PM  RssIcon

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus refers to an auditory perception not produced by an external sound. It is commonly described as a "hissing, roaring, or ringing" and can range from high pitch to low pitch, consist of multiple tones, or sound like noise (having no tonal quality at all). It most often is constant, but can also be perceived as pulsed, or intermittent, and may begin suddenly, or may come on gradually. It can be sensed in one ear, both ears, or in the head. It has been estimated that as many as 40-50 million U.S. residents have experienced more than momentary tinnitus with as many as 2.5 million reporting feeling debilitated by the symptom. As many as 10-12 million individuals have sought help for the condition. Tinnitus may cause or be associated with a wide range of problems including sleep difficulties, fatigue, stress, trouble relaxing, difficulty concentrating, depression, and irritability. As a result it can affect one's quality of life including social interactions and work.


A number of treatment approaches that can be performed by audiologists have been described with various degrees of reported success. They are listed below (in alphabetical order) along with a brief description:

• Counseling
A trained professional counselor can be very helpful whenever the tinnitus becomes problematic. Counseling should be considered both as a primary approach, when appropriate, and as an adjunctive approach, to all treatment strategies. Counseling consists of gathering data through careful listening, making adjustments in one's strategies based on that knowledge, and conveying information. Thus, it serves both a diagnostic and therapeutic function.

• Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
One type of counseling that may be successful in helping people cope with tinnitus is cognitive behavioral modification therapy. This approach can help persons identify the way they react to their tinnitus and learn new responses, thereby minimizing the negative thoughts and behavior patterns that are associated with tinnitus.

• Habituation & Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a method developed to facilitate habituation to tinnitus. It combines sound enrichment therapy with directive counseling. Sound is employed to reduce the contrast between silence or ambient noise and the perception of the tinnitus. It may be in the form of environmental sounds, amplification, or broadband sound generating devices. A reduction of the perception of the tinnitus (but not complete obliteration of it) is considered essential to the process of habituation. Counseling and education serve to demystify tinnitus, providing the patient with an intellectual and emotional framework in which habituation can occur.

• Hearing Aids & Tinnitus Instruments
For individuals with hearing loss, environmental sounds may be inadequate in themselves to afford relief. However, amplifying them with the assistance of hearing aids may provide enough background stimuli to give tinnitus relief, while simultaneously enhancing the individual's listening and communication abilities. If hearing aids alone are inadequate, tinnitus instruments may be of help. Tinnitus instruments are devices that provide amplification, and add the option of an independently controlled broadband sound generator.

• Maskers & Home Masking Devices
Maskers are used to cover-up the tinnitus perception with a competitive signal that either partially or completely competes with or conceals the tinnitus. This can be achieved by a number of methods, ranging from environmental masking to ear-level worn sound generators. Also, there are commercially available recordings of a wide range of sounds that can provide complete or partial masking. In addition to their masking effect, these sounds may assist in relaxation.

• Self-help and Support/Education Groups
Some people find help, stay informed on the latest information, and share treatment experiences by talking to others with similar problems. These groups should be facilitated, or at least attended, by an audiologist or a psychologist (to prevent misinformation from being conveyed) and may include lectures from a variety of related disciplines.

• Stress Management
Stress can aggravate tinnitus, and tinnitus can be very stressful. There are many procedures that can be helpful in learning to manage stress. Biofeedback assisted relaxation is one technique that people can learn to control breathing, muscle tension and heart rate. Other methods of stress reduction include yoga, meditation, self-hypnosis, and exercise.

There is no evidence to support the effectiveness of alternative treatments such as acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal remedies such as ginkgo biloba.

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