Tinnitus – There is Relief
“What’s that noise? At first, I thought it was some electrical fault in the house and I asked my partner if they could hear it. They said they were unable to hear any high-pitched ring or hum. I searched the house for days before coming to see my audiologist for a hearing check-up. Turns out I have tinnitus”.
It is not uncommon for individuals to experience a sound in their ears or head that no one else can hear. This is tinnitus. There is no external sound source and the tinnitus experienced varies greatly between individuals. It is typically bilateral (heard in both ears) and ranges from being subtle, intrusive, varying pitches, multiple sounds, intermittent or constant.
Whilst hearing tinnitus can be distressing, it’s important to note that it is a symptom and not a disease. Visiting an audiology clinic such as Victorian Hearing is the first step in managing tinnitus. A study completed by Hearing Australia, showed that up to 70% of people aged between 18-35 years of age have experienced tinnitus and 16% of people experience it on a regularly, weekly basis.
There are three components to tinnitus which include: auditory, attentional and emotional.
1. AUDITORY: There is an auditory perception of the tinnitus sound. The perception is generally triggered by changes in hearing or damage at some level in the patient’s auditory system. The lack of auditory signals can also result in an increased sensitivity for sounds stemming from the same lack of auditory stimulation (hyperacusis or decreased sound tolerance).
2. ATTENTIONAL: After perceiving the tinnitus sound, the brain then determines it to be something important to listen to and labels it as a significant signal. In some cases, the brain has labelled the tinnitus sound as harmful or threatening to the body (flight or fight response). As a result, this causes the brain to pay closer attention and closely monitor this sound, even when this sound is unwanted.
3. EMOTIONAL: The heightened attention from the brain leads the patient to develop an emotional response to the tinnitus signal. This emotional response may include anxiety, fear, sleep and concentration problems These negative emotions can increase the patient’s stress level, which can only make the tinnitus seem louder.
These components develop into a vicious cycle that keeps repeating itself with each one feeding into the other. As a result, the tinnitus assessments conducted by your audiologist at Victorian Hearing help to understand your situation and we work on ways to help alleviate vicious tinnitus cycle. This is done through an allocated two hours for a tinnitus consultation, which includes a diagnostic hearing test, specific tinnitus assessments, in depth discussion to understand the individual’s lifestyle, and going through options for tinnitus relief.
During the last two years of the pandemic, we have seen an increase in tinnitus appointments and referrals from GPs. This trend was witnessed globally, including a rise in children presenting with tinnitus disturbances. We know that whilst tinnitus can be triggered by significant stress on the body such as an illness or head trauma, for most of us emotional and mental stress, is a catalyst for heighted tinnitus perception.
Tinnitus can be a response to instability in our environment or relationships where stress is elevated, for example loss of a job, breakdown of relationships and large disruptions to routine. Though you may hear there is “no cure for tinnitus”, there is assistance for tinnitus. Relief from tinnitus can take many forms including the following:
• Information counselling: The in-depth discussion with your audiologist to understand the tinnitus cycle and how our brains are tagging emotional responses to sound. Learning is the first and vital step in combatting the tinnitus symptoms.
• Sound enrichment treatment: We often hear “my tinnitus is worse at night”, because there is no other noises around. When our environment is full of sounds, whether that be conversations, background noise or busy classrooms, the tinnitus is less noticeable as the environmental sounds are more interesting to our brains and it can “mask” the tinnitus, sending the tinnitus sound to the background. Therefore, some individuals may use a fan or have the low hum of a television in the background before they sleep to mask out the tinnitus.
• Relaxation techniques: We know that stress can elevate the presence of tinnitus and even change the pitch of it. Addressing stress and understanding what triggers our stress is key to reducing the disturbance of tinnitus. Relaxation techniques may range from physical exercises such as yoga, through to music sound apps experienced through a smart device or phone.
• Psychology: A psychologist can also be seen to help train our behavioural response to tinnitus, reducing the negative perceptions of it and empowering positive management strategies.
• Ear Nose and Throat Specialist: This specialist is usually consulted if the tinnitus is more originating from one ear only and similar to that of a pulse heart-beat sensation. This type of tinnitus can be a symptom of other underlying hearing pathway conditions that an Ear Nose and Throat Specialist will investigate.
Hearing Aids: Today’s advancements in hearing aids may offer much needed relief. Lyric hearing aids are a unique and discreet hearing aid fitted deep in the ear canal and worn 24 hours a day 7 days a week, for months at a time.3. Lyric hearing aids work by providing consistent amplification of sounds day and night so the ears have additional sounds to focus on making the sound of your tinnitus less noticeable, providing you continuous relief even while you sleep2
1. Healthdirect. (2022). Tinnitus, symptoms, treatments and causes. Australian Government Department of Health. Retrieved from Tinnitus – symptoms, treatments, and causes | healthdirect
2. Hoffman, H. J. (2004). Epidemiology of tinnitus. Tinnitus theory and management, 16-41.
3. Power, D. (2018). Is Lyric an effective option for tinnitus? Investigating the benefits of a hearing aid that can be worn 24/7. Submitted for peer review publication.
* Individual patient needs may vary. Lyric is not appropriate for all patients. See a Victorian Hearing Lyric specialist to determine if Lyric is right for you.
** Lyric is water resistant, not waterproof, and should not be completely submerged underwater.