Tinnitus is a common symptom of many hearing and ear conditions and is characterised by a ringing, hissing or other noises that appear to be originating in the body or head, rather than from an outside source. Tinnitus is actually therefore not a disease in itself, but usually a symptom of some other underlying condition or as a result of damage to the inner ear. It can be a cause of great distress and anxiety. At Aston Hearing we offer ways to manage tinnitus and are always looking for new approaches to help reduce its impact on daily life.
Is it in the ear or the brain?
With greater knowledge of neuroscience comes a new theory of where the tinnitus sounds are originated and research has helped scientists understand how the brain generates the sensation of sound.
Neurons , or nerve cells, are responsible for our internal communication and our brain is updated constantly with new information, even though we are unaware of much of it. Our brain constantly receives neural signals from our ears about what is happening in our environment and processes them into information.
When there is a hearing loss, these electrical signals from the ear diminish, but the brain is still on alert and waiting for the information. This is often when symptoms of tinnitus can appear. In its efforts to make sense of this situation, the brain may become increasingly alert to previously ignored electrical signals and these are perceived as new sounds.
We are aware that for many of our clients, tinnitus can be an even greater challenge than their hearing loss. One client, Nikki Magrath, experienced tinnitus during a period of total deafness and says “ it was by far the worst part of the whole experience. I expected total deafness to mean living in a silent world but the reality was far different. It was distressing to have all conversation and sounds replaced by a raging machine noise inside my head. I had to believe there was a way of tuning it out and regaining some peace.’
The human brain is amazing and it is now believed it can keep regenerating throughout life. New nerve pathways can be made and, with time and practice, the brain can be trained to habituate to the noises of tinnitus. This requires retraining our thought patterns to separate out meaningful stimuli from those which are not relevant.