Understanding Tinnitus

Over 50 years ago, Heller and Bergman demonstrated that if ‘normal’ people (with no known cochlear disease) were placed in a quiet enough environment, the vast majority of them would experience sounds inside their head. They concluded that tinnitus-like activity is a natural phenomenon perceived by many in a quiet enough environment (Heller 1953).

Mazurek has shown that pathologic changes in thecochlear neuro transmission, e.g. as a result of intensive noise exposure or ototoxic drugs, can be a factor in the development of tinnitus (Mazurek 2007).

In the ‘neuro physiological model’ of tinnitus (Jastreboff 1990, Jastreboff 2004) it is proposed that tinnitus results from the abnormal processing of a signal generated in the auditory system. This abnormal processing occurs before the signal is perceived centrally. This may result in ‘feedback’, whereby the annoyance created by the tinnitus causes the individual to focus increasingly on the noise, which in turn exacerbates the annoyance and so a ‘vicious cycle’ develops.

In this model tinnitus, could therefore result from continuous firing of cochlear fibres to the brain, from hyperactivity of cochlear hair cells or from permanent damage to these cells being translated neuronally into a ‘phantom’ sound-like signal that the brain ‘believes’ it is hearing. For this reason tinnitus may be compared to chronic pain of central origin – a sort of ‘auditory pain’ (Briner 1995; Sullivan 1994).

The relationship between the symptom of tinnitus and the activity of the pre-frontal cortex and limbic system has been emphasised. The limbic system mediates emotions. It can be of great importance in understanding why the sensation of tinnitus is in many cases so distressing for the patient. It also suggests why, when symptoms are severe, tinnitus can be associated with major depression, anxiety and other psychosomatic and/or psychological disturbances, leading to a progressive deterioration of quality of life (Lockwood 1999; Sullivan 1989; Sullivan 1992; Sullivan 1993).

Tinnitus Management

“If you’ve been told that nothing could be done for your tinnitus and that it would be something you would have to learn to live with or your present treatment is not working, I would love to get in touch with you.”

Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as noises or ringing in the ears or head when no such external physical noise is present. The origin of tinnitus is unknown. Some researcher says tinnitus may be caused by a fault in the hearing system; it is a symptom, not a disease in itself. Probably 18% of Australians have tinnitus at some time of their lives. Natural hearing is focusing on non-medical treatment for tinnitus designed to help relieve the symptom of tinnitus. Special training in Tinnitus such as Retaining Therapy, Tinnitus Masking techniques, amplification applications works for some or does not work for others.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy

Developed by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff, this program uses a neurophysical model to explain the effect tinnitus has on various individuals. Some individuals will have no adverse effects while others find their tinnitus very annoying and sometimes even disabling. According to this model, people who are annoyed with their tinnitus have not developed a process in which the brain learns not to recognize the tinnitus as purposeful. The ability to ignore or filter out tinnitus is called habituation and this program is designed to train the brain to do this. This is a long-term program.

Tinnitus Masking

Tinnitus masking involves using a customized hearing device with an external signal sufficient enough to mask out the individuals tinnitus. The rational is that it is easier for the patient to ignore the external generated stimulus than their own tinnitus. One form of this device combines a masker and a hearing aid for those who also experience hearing loss.

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