In many cases, when patients are seeking tinnitus treatment or a tinnitus management plan, the tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss. But why the link? Here we explain what tinnitus is and what can be done for people seeking “ringing in the ears treatment”.
To start with, tinnitus is brain activity. It is caused when the brain cells associated with hearing fire spontaneously. Normally these brain cells only respond to the electrical nerve stimulation received from the auditory nerve. This stimulation is the result of sounds occurring in our environment, entering the ear, and triggering a reaction in the hearing system. This reaction runs up the neural pathway into the brain where it is decoded and interpreted according to the brain’s knowledge and experience. Hearing loss however, results in a reduction of that external noise stimulation. Because those brain cells haven’t got anything better to do, the spontaneous internal nerve activity increases and is perceived more loudly by the conscious mind. That’s interpreted as a buzzing, humming, or ringing sound.
Constantly competing for attention
To illustrate why tinnitus can be so effective at capturing our attention, imagine a single candle in a room. When the room is dark, the candle shines brightly. It’s the only source of light so you can’t help but be drawn to it. Now, flick on the light switch. Suddenly the room is filled with light. You can still see the candle, but it’s not the brightest source, and it’s not in such high contrast. In addition, the room is now filled with a rich variety of other visual stimulation. This contrast demonstrates how hearing loss and tinnitus are linked and why sound enrichment can help reduce tinnitus perception. It also explains why its effective to use hearing aids for tinnitus.
When hearing aids are clinically selected and appropriately tuned, they supply a broad spectrum of sounds to the wearers auditory system (this includes the brain). That sound stimulation washes over the tinnitus, allowing the part of the brain responsible for dealing with sound to have something else to focus on. Over time, wearing hearing aids can help to reduce tinnitus perception by retraining those brain cells. Eventually, it can even provide benefits when the sufferer isn’t wearing their hearing aids (for example when they want a good night’s sleep). Basically, the renewed stimulation teaches the brains hearing centre to get back into line and only be active when its receiving outside auditory information.
Before you go popping in a pair of hearing aids or think about self-management, it’s super important that you get checked out by an audiologist, because tinnitus is complex and can have many causes including medications, injuries or other health conditions. In rare cases tinnitus may have an underlying pathological cause. We want to consider all possible causes and determine the health of your hearing system before we start.
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The good news is that hearing aids provide sound enrichment which has been scientifically proven to help people who suffer from tinnitus. At A Better Ear we have had the pleasure of successfully treating many people for this distracting problem that can impact quality of life.
If you’d like to learn more about tinnitus and have a personalised tinnitus management plan developed for you, please give me a call at A Better Ear on 3821 3744. We are focussed on understanding your unique needs and meeting you with your goals in mind.
Disclaimer: All information is general in nature. Patients should consider their own personal circumstances and seek a second opinion. Eligibility for, and services available under the Hearing Services Program may change. Please check the HSP website for up-to-date details.