Tinnitus who has it and why?
Latest Research on Tinnitus
via ABC RN The causes of tinnitus and what can be done (originally broadcast in August 2021)
An estimated one in six Australians are living with constant tinnitus (hearing sounds that aren't coming from an external source).
Tinnitus is a symptom which occurs in most people. If we're in a silent enough environment, and we're really listening hard, we will all hear something. But for a chunk of the population it can cause problems. However there is some research that is promising.
Most people who develop tinnitus will over time, if not straight away habituate to it. A small proportion of people do find that very difficult and they can become quite distressed by it.
There is also a relationship to anxiety and tinnitus. Tinnitus is challenging to treat, but it is treatable despite what many people are told by medical professionals.
When you're hearing sound normally your middle ear picks up sound waves and turns these into electrical impulses that are translated by your brain. But damage to your ears or the neurons involved in hearing can change the way your body processes the sound.
"Tinnitus is usually associated with hearing loss, partly because your brain is a statistical machine.
Myriam Westcott, an audiologist who specializes in treating tinnitus
In the interests of efficency all the translating sounds it's receiving your brain is sometimes also predicting what it thinks it's going to hear.
This is normally useful but can become a problem when you have a change to your hearing."
"My brain still predicts these frequencies should arrive and because they do not arrive, the brain says well better safe than sorry and in many cases and therefore, it will generate the sound itself pulling data from memory based on what it expects to hear."
Dirk de Ridder, a tinnitus researcher from the University of Otago
About half the people who seek help with tinnitus develop Hyperacusis or reduced tolerance to noise. With Hyperacusis and Tinnitus they are exacerbated by anxiety, hence researchers noticed an increase during COVID. Audiologist Myriam Westcott says addressing that anxiety is one of the first steps in treating tinnitus.
Because hearing loss and tinnitus often appear together, people sometimes think the tinnitus is causing the hearing loss.
Myriam Westcott says that's a misconception and that hearing aids can often help by amplifying external sound and drowning out those internal sounds.
Described by some as cicadas singing in your ear ABC Body Sphere highlighted some interesting issues surrounding the condition.
One Asian lady said I went to the forest and the birds jumped into my ear.
"No, it's just a hissing noise. It really bothers some people, it doesn't bother me. The only thing that bothers me about it is I have to lip-read occasionally. And amongst my friends and the people I work with we all speak really loud because we've all got a bit of it.
Red Symmons(Skyhooks musician)
Red Symmons (Skyhooks musician) was casual and accepting of the condition:
"No, it's just a hissing noise. It really bothers some people, it doesn't bother me. The only thing that bothers me about it is I have to lip-read occasionally. And amongst my friends and the people I work with we all speak really loud because we've all got a bit of it."
ABC Body Sphere
Clearly different people have a different reaction to the condition, and the condition appears different in some people.
Some very productive people have tinnitus
"Chris Martin from the band Cold Play, Neil Young, Beethoven, Joan of Arc, Charles Darwin, Van Gogh (explains a lot about the ear lopping), Bill Clinton and more..."
ABC Body Sphere
Ross Dineen: "Tinnitus is the noise of your auditory system. I suppose the best analogy is like a record player without a record on; if you crank up the gain of the amplifier you get the noise of the amplifying circuit. Tinnitus is to a large extent the noise of our auditory system. The brain adjusts to the level of activity of our auditory system, depending on the quality of the signal coming in. If you're hearing changes, either temporarily like from short-term noise exposure or from an ear infection, or long term from development of nerve deafness or one of those other hearing conditions, the brain starts to turn up the activity of part of the auditory system to try and improve the quality of discriminative information coming into the brain. Because it's the brain doing all the work, your ears are really just a microphone."
ABC Body Sphere
Ross Dineen: "But if you're engaged in any activity where at the end of the activity you're aware of tinnitus, you've been exposed to a level of sound which the brain has defined as being dangerous and has started to try and adjust the sensitive ear to protect you from it."
Red Symmons: "I've sold my ears for evil over the years. I started when I was in my 20s with loud music in bands, the Skyhooks. But all the way through I've been involved in the production of music at various stages, and in order to hear clearly you have to turn it up really loud. But it takes its toll. There was the flash-pot, the explosion on stage in about 1974."
ABC Body Sphere
It can be a permanent side-effect of drug treatments - even some quite commonly used ones.
Inspiration in Megan's poem
This poem appeared on the ABC Body Sphere site Megan © September 2014
A great and appreciated program. Thankyou. Following an upper respiratory infection 3 yrs ago, I permanently lost all hearing in left ear,and developed tinnitus. Here's a poem I wrote last year:
ODE TO LORD TINNITUS
Lord Tinnitus – Patron Saint of Ringing Sound,
waits unheard at the gates of my head. Then,
uninvited, He boldly enters my chamber-
a possessive lover heavy on my shoulder
breathing His cruel presence into my ear
'til I am unable to hear any message beyond
"Lover, I am here to stay forever."
He whispers His dark refrains down
the channels of my clouded brain.
A train on rails, He pants and steams,
or hums - a struck Tibetan singing bowl.
That’s when I ask if you too hear
these unkind sounds that prowl on wings
so clear and close and tinged with fear
down the hallways of my anxious mind?
Imagining Him once, I playfully drew
two train tracks black and straight
that crissed and crossed inside my head.
And hoping he would fade with shame,
I showed the world , shared loud His name.
I said "This is the Terrible Lord Tinnitus!
Lover, how I wish you dead! Yes, dead!"
But angered then, His tantrums grew
upon the stage of my labyrinthine ear.
He thrashed and threw his ghastly rage
until I knew just what to do -
for clear, I saw an unloved Child
run wild amidst His own desires,
in need of boundaries strong.
I built a cage and tricked him in.
His wild hot fires are cooler now, for
I can play, chose not to hear.
He’s locked apart, his power is less -
my heart can rest and sing again.
I live in hope he'll break his word -
that this bored lover will not stay.
Now turning to my inner wall,
I treasure peace while I recall
old sounds of silence from before -
before he waited at my gate.
But now, with pleasure, I can state
at last I have his feckless measure!
Megan © September 2014
What does Tinnitus sound like?