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Ringing in Ears

Is There a Way to Stop Ringing in the Ears?

Officially termed tinnitus, it can be defined as the perception of sounds, such as ringing in the ears in the absence of any external auditory stimulus. As such, these sounds are purely subjective and, therefore, totally inaudible to an examining physician or audiologist. Not an illness per se, but rather a symptom, tinnitus is most often associated with some degree of hearing loss. This seems to suggest that there must be some common physiological process involved in both. The phantom noises, which also include buzzing, hissing, and other sounds, are believed to be experienced by around 10% of the population and, as yet, medical science has failed to find a way to cure them.

The illusion of ringing and other sounds in the ears affects people to differing degrees. Almost everyone will have experienced it on more than one occasion. It usually follows exposure to a sudden loud noise, such as a backfire, a firework, or a gunshot, and is accompanied by muffled hearing. In such cases, these effects are temporary and disappear within a day or two at the most. In addition to noise, a number of other factors are also able to provoke the onset of tinnitus. For example, it may occur as a possible side effect of more than 200 different prescription and non-prescription medications. Discontinuing the offending medication in time will often eliminate the symptom.

Another cause of temporary ringing in the ears is an excessive build-up of wax in the ear canal. Once cleared, however, the phantom sounds disappear and normal hearing is restored – again implying a possible link between the two. For a significant number of tinnitus sufferers, however, the effects are more permanent. There are cases of individuals who, at intervals, experience these illusory sounds for several months at a time while, for others, the symptoms can be continuous and will often have persisted for many years.

Tinnitus differs not only in terms of its persistence, but also in its intensity. Although just a faint background noise for some and only noticeable when ambient noise levels are limited, in other subjects, this ringing in the ears can be so loud that it becomes a constant distraction. It can interfere with concentration and make sleeping almost impossible, and may even prevent those affected from coping with a job. In time, the debilitating effects of severe tinnitus will often lead to depression. Not surprisingly, the search for a cure is ongoing. However, although there have been some encouraging developments, at the moment, the focus remains on techniques to help tinnitus sufferers manage their symptoms.

Statistics suggest that most of those who experience tinnitus fail to consult a physician and will either attempt to ignore the intrusive sounds or resort to some form of alternative medicine. In practice, there are a number of quite effective options that can help tinnitus sufferers to cope with the ringing in their ears effectively enough to limit any negative effects these might otherwise have on their lives. While, to some, it may seem a little esoteric, counselling can also be of great help. A course of suitable cognitive behavioural therapy can be surprisingly effective as a means with which to assist tinnitus sufferers to better cope with the annoying sounds.

Another finding which tends to support the connection between hearing loss and tinnitus has been made evident by the number of those whose intrusive sounds cease once they begin wearing hearing aids. While a hearing aid is hardly suitable for those whose tinnitus is not accompanied by auditory impairment, they do have the alternative option of employing technology designed to mask the ringing in their ears. Incidentally, since a hearing aid alone is not sufficient for all of those with hearing difficulties, this masking technology is integrated into some of the latest models and accessible by means of an accessory for patients with older units.

The masking effect is achieved by means of a white noise generator, which blends multiple frequencies of sound with equal but comfortable intensities. While effectively masking the sounds of tinnitus and allocating them to the background, the white noise itself is easily ignored, thus providing the subject with some much-needed relief from the incessant ringing in his or her ears. No hearing aid is needed. The white noise generator is available as a smartphone app or on a compact disk, and may be played through a speaker or with the use of wired or wireless earbuds.