Tinnitus is the name given to the condition where there is a perception or sensation of sound when there is no external physical sound present. Tinnitus can present as a range of sounds – hisses, ringing or whistles – depending on the individual – some people hear more than one sound.
The sound may be localised in space or just seem to come from the head or ears. Most people suffer from a episode of tinnitus sometime during their lives, this is usually only for a short time and is temporary. Most of us will be able to detect some sense of sound in very quiet environments.
For some people though tinnitus is a chronic (or long term) affliction that can result in a loss of concentration, sleep problems and depression. A common misconception is that tinnitus cannot be treated – although there is no one cure for tinnitus, techniques exist for the management and the therapy – leading to an improvement in the quality of life for sufferers.
How Is Tinnitus Assessed?
Tinnitus is not always associated with hearing loss and vice versa. If you believe that you may be suffering the onset of tinnitus or if you find it hard coping with tinnitus, have your condition assessed and treated by under-going a full evaluation by a member of the New Zealand Audiological Society.
Tinnitus is evaluated usually by matching the pitch and loudness of a person’s tinnitus with an external sound. The following are a few terms used by audiologists:
- Minimum Masking Level – the minimum level of sound required to mask or cover the tinnitus.
- Residual inhibition – a loud sound of short duration is produced and a test carried out to see if this sound reduces the level of tinnitus.How is it Treated or Managed?
- Masking replaces the sound of tinnitus by intoducing an external sound into the ear. A sound that is more pleasant than the tinnitus is used. The brain quickly acclimitises to ambient noise by fading them out or ignoring them – ie the hum of cars in the background or the ticking of a wristwatch. Similarly, masking sounds should be gradually ignored. A hearing aid-like device is used to produce the masking noise – usually a hiss, or white noise.
Auditory Retraining Therapy
- The key to ART is to acheive the process known as tinnitus habituation (desensitization). This is acheived by retraining the part of the brain involved with tinnitus detection via the stimulation of the hearing system by low level, broad band, noise. ART is usually a combination of counselling and instrumentation.