Tinnitus is a noise that originates within the ear rather than from the outside environment. The sound may have been described variously as a “ringing” sound, “whistling” sound, “buzzing” sound, or other type of noise that seems to originate in the ear or head. In many cases it is not a serious problem or disease, but rather very bothersome for says Tinnitus treatment specialist. Nearly 36 million Americans suffer from this disorder and in almost all cases only the patient can hear the noise.
In addition to the noises associated with tinnitus, certain other symptoms may accompany this condition. These include:
Pain in the ear
A sense of fullness in the ears
What causes tinnitus?
According Tinnitus relief expert, some tinnitus or head noise is normal. Tinnitus can arise in any of the following areas: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, or by abnormailities in the brain. If a person goes into a sound proof booth and normal outside noise is diminished, one becomes aware of these normal sounds. We are usually not aware of these normal body sounds, because outside noise masks them. Anything, such as wax or a foreign body in the external ear, that blocks these background sounds will cause us to be more aware of our own head sounds. Fluid, infection, or disease of the middle ear bones or ear drum can also cause tinnitus.
In order to understand what causes tinnitus, and eventually how to cure tinnitus, it’s important to understand how the ear works. The ear is a fairly complex organ that converts sound waves into brain signals by passing the waves through the ear canal, onto the ear drum and then through the ear bones into the cochlea (inner ear), a small shell like structure that picks up individual frequencies. The cochlea works by transmitting different frequencies from the point where it receives the frequency to the corresponding point in the brain. The brain and cochlea are arranged exactly alike, with the frequencies (pitches) that are next to each other on the cochlea being exactly next to each other in the brain as well.
Tinnitus is caused when a particular frequency range in the cochlea is damaged and no longer sends information to the brain. This may seem strange at first as tinnitus is caused by the brain NOT receiving signals rather than receiving too many. To explain this, we need to understand one more piece of the puzzle of hearing: what do you hear when you hear nothing? Your brain is actually hearing a steady state of sounds, however soft, at every frequency simultaneously. Your brain tells you that you hear sounds only when it detects a pattern in the consistent noise it’s receiving. So, when you stop receiving signals from a particular frequency, it can no longer detect any patterns so you will at first hear nothing at that frequency. If you don’t hear anything at a particular frequency at first, why do you eventually hear too much at that frequency?
Your brain is incredible and is very, very good at reusing space. For example, if you are blind your brain will often convert the areas traditionally used for image processing to instead process extra audio, smell, and taste sensations. In the case of tinnitus, your brain quickly recognizes that you no longer have a use for the space reserved for the frequencies that are damaged in your cochlea, so it reuses the space for other frequencies. The frequencies near the damaged frequencies are given extra processing power. So they become better at detecting patterns and also tend to spontaneously fire more often. Unfortunately, that means they detect sounds much more regularly than other frequencies are detected, prompting the brain to create ringing or tinnitus.
Traditional Treatments of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be treated with Tinnitus hearing therapy. Since tinnitus doesn’t actually affect the damaged regions of the cochlea, but instead affects the areas directly around the damaged zones in the brain, we need to focus on those frequencies and how to affect their brain functioning. As we found out in the causes section, those frequencies are now overly active in detecting sounds. In the past, the thinking has been pretty simple: just play sounds on the affected frequency to allow the ear to detect an actual noise instead of a perceived noise says Tinnitus hearing therapy specialist.
That treatment works a little bit, but it has serious drawbacks because you are only temporarily moving the tinnitus from inside the brain back to the ear that is hearing the actual sound. You will still hear the high pitched frequency; it just isn’t being created by your newly overactive brain any longer, it actually exists.
Doctors have experimented with using “white noise” to create sounds on all frequencies rather than just the one frequency that is affected with quite a bit of success. This way the brain hears sounds equally across all frequencies, affecting all parts of the brain. The affected areas are part of the white noise, so they hear actual sounds and the random, spontaneous noise stops showing up as often. Also, if you are hearing a lot of random noise then painful tinnitus gets lost in the noise. This is good news for tinnitus sufferers because now they have a solution that can help them get better.