So what exactly is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is when you hear sounds that aren’t there. To be clear, this is not a psychological condition and you’re not “hearing things.” Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom that has a wide range of underlying causes. In our high-decibel world, noise is one of the biggest causes. But anything from ear infections to excessive earwax might also explain the condition. The degree and type of the tinnitus noise varies greatly between individuals. For some it can be quite loud while for others it’s merely a minor irritating presence. For some people both ears are affected, for others just one. And it’s certainly not uncommon. Estimates put the number of sufferers at 45 million Americans but only a small minority of those affected find the condition a serious nuisance. At present, there are no approved medications for tinnitus, but there are many strategies to help either reduce the effects of tinnitus or help a person tolerate it. The first thing to do if you suspect you have tinnitus or any other hearing-related condition is see a medical professional — as you want to rule out medical conditions as the primary cause. After your doctor has confirmed that you do not suffer from a medical condition, it’s time to turn to management options. Understanding what’s going on in your brain can be helpful. The inner ear contains thousands of minute inner hair cells that vibrate in response to sound waves. These hairs can become damaged, often due to loud environments. The study of tinnitus is still in its infancy, but it’s very possible that damaged or destroyed inner ear hair cells may be causing the brain to activate neurons related to the perception of sound. After you and your doctor have come to a probable diagnosis for why you’re suffering from tinnitus, the next question to ask yourself is this: “Can I tolerate or learn to tolerate this?” For some people the condition is chronic. They “hear” unwanted and unpleasant noise all the time. For others, the condition comes and goes. If your condition is chronic you may determine you need assistance to cope with the daily irritation. Be wary of alternative medications or nutritional supplements recommended by unqualified Internet “experts,” and don’t take medications unless prescribed by a doctor. But do consider trying noninvasive, non-pharmaceutical options such as the Tinnitus Calmer App, available for free on the Apple App Store or on Google Play. Beltone’s Tinnitus Calmer App is a combination of sound therapy and relaxation exercises to “distract” your brain. The app features a variety of “sound-scapes” you can customize, plus you can add your own music and even pick colors for the app that you find the most calming. Over time, most people do get used to tinnitus and only a small minority of individuals find the condition negatively affects their daily lives. As we noted earlier, scientific research into tinnitus has begun but experts still don’t have a concrete understanding of the condition. The good news is that potential treatments are being investigated and the modern medical community has accepted that tinnitus is not generally connected to personality disorders or mental illness – the condition has even been found in children with congenital sensorineural hearing loss. Using the Tinnitus Calmer App is a good step towards controlling your emotional reaction to tinnitus. Other relaxation techniques or talk therapy can also be helpful. You may not be able to rid yourself of tinnitus, but you can rid yourself of the negative emotions that often accompany the condition. In short, check with your doctor about medical conditions, then look into coping mechanisms such as the Tinnitus Calmer App. Tinnitus can be annoying, but you can learn to “recondition” your reaction to the condition and thereby reduce stress and increase your quality of life.