That ringing in the ears - tinnitus - lots of people live with it. Some of them may even be your clients. If you'd like to learn more about tinnitus and how to treat it, you should continue reading… or listening… we'll get to that.
"I was in the front row [at a concert]… and came out afterwards. Not only did I have a ringing in my ears… I couldn't hear. Woke up the next morning and my hearing was back. But I had that high-pitched whistle just there… over a period - maybe two or three days - it basically disappeared completely."
These are the words of audiologist Gary Holland, and they sum up perfectly just how easy it is to get transient tinnitus - the kind of ringing that occurs and then disappears after some time.
But not everyone's as lucky as Holland was. In the US, it's estimated that around 15% of the general population are living with tinnitus, and it's not easy to find a cure. Because, basically, tinnitus isn't a disease.
Where does tinnitus come from?
Chronic tinnitus comes from too much exposure to loud noise. Like if you've been standing too close to the speakers at a concert. If fireworks go off close to your ears. If your workplace is very loud and you don't wear hearing protection.
Although there are no conclusive results for what happens inside the brain when tinnitus occurs, one theory is predominant: Exposure to loud noise kills some of the hair cells in the inner ear. This means that the brain cells in the auditory cortex lose the signal from the ear and ask other cells to compensate for that signal. The problem is that now there's overcompensation for those cells that died, and that creates the tinnitus noise.
How can I help my clients?
There are different approaches to getting tinnitus relief. One extensive approach, with good results, was developed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff.
It's called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), and it is a process of learning to cope with tinnitus on a conscious and subconscious level.
This therapy can be compared to the sound of raindrops falling on a roof. At first, you notice it when it first starts raining. But then slowly it goes unnoticed and you forget about it after some time. This is called habituation.
There are three steps to the TRT program:
- Extensive collection of information about the client
- Sound therapy
- Psychological therapy combined with deep relaxation exercises and stress management
What's really important in the TRT program is that the person with tinnitus learns not to focus on it, but rather to ignore it.
If the person with tinnitus focuses on it and gets annoyed about it, they're creating a vicious circle where the tinnitus becomes more aggravating and takes up too much space in their life. It may even stress the person, and, unfortunately, stress tends to enhance the ringing.
Some myths about tinnitus
Tinnitus has been associated with a number of things, like aspirin, caffeine and Ménière's disease. But, in fact, if you're a frequent coffee drinker or chocolate eater, stopping your consumption of these foods could make your tinnitus worse, says Dr. Pawel Jastreboff, who dissects these myths in Widex's podcast, Listen up!
There's plenty more to learn about tinnitus in our podcast series
We're attacking tinnitus from every angle together with different experts on the matter - check it out.Let's Listen up!