While most people experience the condition at some stage, almost one in every five Australians have an enduring or recurring “ringing in their ears” – known as tinnitus.
The ringing or hissing sound in one or both ears occurs even in total silence. It may appear to be coming from inside the sufferer’s head. It can be a single noise or a combination of sounds. The severity and regularity also differs between sufferers.
Tinnitus is NOT a disease. It is often a symptom of an auditory or sensory fault in the hearing system sometimes caused by a stressful event on the ear.
What can cause tinnitus?
Almost anything that has the potential to affect a person’s hearing can also lead to the condition. Research has identified the following as potential causes of tinnitus:
- Extreme Noise – The most common cause. Both long-term exposure and sudden loud noises can trigger a permanent hearing loss that results in tinnitus
- Hearing Loss – Having to strain to hear can raise tinnitus levels
- Meniere’s disease – This condition can also cause dizziness, nausea, and fluctuating hearing loss
- Some Medications – Tinnitus can be a side-effect of common medicines such as antibiotics and arthritis pills
- Stress & Fatigue – High stress levels and a poor night’s sleep can combine to make tinnitus worse
- Caffeine – Tea, coffee, colas and chocolate can all increase the severity of tinnitus, along with food and drinks containing quinine
- Smoking – Can create tinnitus by restricting the blood flow through your ear canal and limiting the supply of oxygen
- Alcohol – Red wine and champagne are known for setting off tinnitus
- Pregnancy, anaemia and an overactive thyroid can cause certain types of tinnitus
- Jaw joint misalignment or muscles of the ear or throat ‘twitching’ can cause a ‘clicking’ type of tinnitus
Research has yet to discover a cure for the condition. And as there are varying causes of tinnitus, we concentrate instead on “management” rather than solutions.
Often the best place to start is a full hearing assessment. If this assessment reveals significant hearing loss, we may advise you that a hearing aid is likely to reduce or, in some cases, completely alleviate the condition.
We may also recommend that you see by an ear, nose, and throat specialist, to be sure that the tinnitus is not caused by a treatable medical condition. While rare, following successful surgical treatment for some ear problems (e.g. otosclerosis or middle ear effusion), tinnitus may sometimes fade away.
A Therapeutic Noise Generator is another option to help manage the condition where hearing loss is not present. While it looks like a hearing aid, it actually produces a blend of external sounds which stimulate hearing nerve fibres, helping deviate attention away from the tinnitus.
Clinical Psychologists often recommend Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) where other treatments have failed. This therapy can be effective for some people to help alleviate distress and help people adjust to tinnitus. Its function is threefold:
- It changes the way a person perceives their tinnitus
- It teaches individuals how to focus attention away from tinnitus
- It helps people achieve control over their stress.
If you suspect that tinnitus is related to a jaw alignment problem, it’s worthwhile consulting your dentist.