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Kevin G Hare

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Sound Advice on Tinnitus

I suffer from tinnitus and hopefully, you don’t have it as bad as I do. Tinnitus is a ringing in your ears; it actually ranges through many different sounds like buzzing, whistling, humming or the low drumming of a heavy waterfall. Sometimes you can feel pressure within your ear, or feel vibrations, tension, pain or imbalance. It can occur in one ear or both and it doesn’t care who you are or how old you are.

I’ve had to do a lot of my own research on the subject because I’ve been to doctors and they aren’t that concerned about it because they aren’t really that aware of it. I’m usually told that as long as my hearing is ok, I’m fine and I will just have to tolerate the noise. Unfortunately, it is a huge discomfort and the noise not that easy to just tolerate. Even more unfortunately, many sufferers never make it in to see a doctor because they don’t want to admit that they hear sounds that everyone else doesn’t. That makes some people think you’re weird, not sick. Those who know me already think I’m weird so I’m ok with telling a doctor I hear strange noises. I just don’t tell him that the noises are talking to me….

Having to track down some causes for this little known ailment led me to some interesting research and even more interesting results. Common causes are easy to accept and make sense; it’s the uncommon ones that grabbed my attention. Some of these common causes include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, head trauma, TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint Disorder), a build-up of earwax, noise exposure and yes, age can also be a factor.

The uncommon causes I found through the Tinnitus Association of Canada (www.kadis.com/ta/tinnitus.htm) and they say the underlying factor to this dysfunction is more closely related to the nervous system than our auditory system. Serious cases of tinnitus can actually be triggered by post-trauma disorder. This means STRESS – we are all aware of that. Stress from your job or family life, stress from a recent accident or operation, stress from that tiny little problem that has been nagging you for a really long time. I could see how some of this would apply to me but I never took any of it that serious. TAC says that tinnitus can be initiated by anything upsetting your nervous system – smoking, shock, withdrawal from alcohol, sudden or severe changes or challenges in your lifestyle, sleep disturbance, anxiety and people who place high demands on themselves. That last part sums me up – I’m too hard on myself! I gotta learn to relax a little.

Recent studies are showing the sensitive neural connection between the brain and the auditory system, specifically, how the chemicals produced by the brain under a state of stress or shock affect the tools we hear with. I would have to agree, although medical science is very slowly catching up with metaphysical science, one can clearly see the symbiotic connection within the apparatus that is the human body. We listen to music and our consciousness responds as an emotional springboard that remains linked to the beat of the song. Same with movies and books, we are hardwired to respond to what our senses are attuned to.

So where do we seek help to tame this beast of auditory malediction? Doctors or other forms of specialized hearing professionals? The new answer may surprise you – a psychiatrist or phsychologist! Well, that’s where they say to go after you have consulted your family doctor and he/she has ruled out any physical issues. It is then the task of the psychiatrist to try to eliminate the causes of stress or disruption in your life with medications or meditations (surprisingly similar words aren’t they?)

There is another option though, found on the TAC website – Tinnitus Re-Training (TRT). This technique involves masking the noise you hear internally with a sound generator that looks very much like a hearing aid. The idea is to train the brain to lessen the impact of the noise caused by tinnitus. The control is a gradual one and it is not ‘unheard’ of for substantial improvements to take months to be noticed. The cost of these generators is also a factor to seek other methods – initially about $2200 per pair but they may have come down since about 2002. Ouch! I would be more inclined to scrounge up a ‘sound-of-the-ocean’ cd and veg out on the couch for awhile!

The plus side basically means hope. Somebody is studying up on the subject and trying to find a means to eliminate these strange noises that drown us in discomfort. Well over 360 000 Canadians suffer from tinnitus so there is no reason for doctors and hearing specialists to think you are weird for hearing something they can’t. The Tinnitus Association of Canada is an organization dedicated to finding a cure and that’s good news to hear.