Tinnitus Treatment: It IS Possible To Manage Tinnitus
By Zara Dureno
I have heard countless clients say that their doctors or ear, nose and throat specialists (ENTs) have told them that nothing can be done about their tinnitus and that they just “had to learn to live with it”. This is discouraging for many people because at the current level and frequency of the sound, their tinnitus can feel anywhere from irritating to unbearable. On the flip side, I’ve had clients with severe tinnitus go on to lead very normal lives by managing it.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a perception of sound in the ears that does not come from an external source. Some forms of tinnitus have a direct cause such as hearing loss, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, anemia, ear infections, jaw problems, the side effect of medications or a build up of ear wax to name a few. Treating the underlying cause can sometimes help alleviate the ringing in your ears. Other forms of this stubborn ringing do not have a clear cause and can be confusing to treat. This type of tinnitus may not have a “cure” per se, but there are a lot of techniques which can significantly minimize the effect tinnitus has on your life. In this post, I would like to give you some of those techniques.
What Can You Do?
The first step towards living a life without tinnitus at the forefront is understanding that tinnitus is a normal phenomenon. In a quiet enough environment, most people will experience tinnitus. Around 75% of people who are aware of their tinnitus do not find it bothersome because they filter out the sound. For people with bothersome tinnitus, their brain is amplifying the sound rather than filtering it out.
In the majority of cases, it does not signify a serious illness and a quick check with your doctor can rule most things out. Just because you are hearing it at an intense level now, does not mean it will be that way forever. There are things that can be done to can take away some of the fear associated with this new bothersome noise and to alleviate some of the anxieties of how tinnitus impacts one’s life.
Tools to Help Manage Tinnitus
Sound therapy is an excellent resource for people with tinnitus. You can find many forms of this on Spotify or Youtube (pink noise, brown noise, crickets, water sounds or videos labelled as ‘tinnitus sound therapy’). It is recommended to always have some background sounds during the day but not to fully mask the tinnitus. At night, you can listen to it loud enough to fully mask it. This helps you to start to pay attention to other sounds and brings the tinnitus sound out of the spotlight.
Imagine you were in a dark room with one light in it, that light would seem very bright. But if you turned on a bunch of other lights, that light would not have the same effect. It is the same principle with noise. Over time, your brain learns to filter out the tinnitus as another meaningless noise.
Habituation is another important step for tinnitus. This is partly addressed in sound therapy. The idea behind habituation is that any stimulus that our brain labels as safe and harmless will eventually fade from our attention. For example, if you are sitting near your fridge right now, you probably did not notice the hum of the fridge until you started thinking about it. You probably also do not notice the feeling of your clothes on your body shortly after you put them on. This is habituation – getting used to a stimuli and gradually filtering it out over time.
We pay attention to the stimulus in our environment based on the meaning that we assign it. If I am very scared of dogs, I will be acutely aware of footsteps that sound like dogs or the sound of a collar jingling. However, if I grew up around dogs and they do not scare me I might not notice as much. We can use this concept to our advantage with tinnitus.
If every time I hear the ringing, I react with fear, anxiety and thoughts like “this is horrible, I hate this, I wish this would stop” then my brain is labeling that noise as something that is very important to pay attention to; and it will pay attention to it even more. You can see how this would be a vicious cycle! It can be really helpful to use cognitive behaviour therapy to challenge your thoughts (there are many workbooks online or you can do it with a therapist). And to start to notice other sensations when the tinnitus arises (what else are you hearing? What are you seeing/feeling/tasting/smelling?) and to engage in meaningful activities which are distracting.
Other general life strategies will impact tinnitus as well. For example, getting good sleep, exercising regularly and doing a mindfulness or stress reduction exercise at least a few times a week will be important.
Some other strategies which might be helpful include: Physiotherapy for jaw and neck tension, acupuncture, neurofeedback, counselling and sometimes medication is appropriate. Please ensure to discuss tinnitus with your doctor to rule out any underlying medical causes.
If you would like to have a personalized therapy session about your tinnitus or you would like to use neurofeedback to help, please book in with one of our therapists! I wish you the best in finding relief from the ringing!