Tinnitus comes in many shapes and sizes. Though many people refer to it as “ringing in the ears,” the sounds people describe can be quite different. Some people hear a whooshing or roaring, while others hear a buzzing or even a clicking sound. What they have in common is that the sound of tinnitus comes from within the body rather than an outside source. The size of the sound can be quite different, as well.
Many people experience a quiet high-pitched haze around their hearing, but some people have such loud tinnitus that it causes serious distress. There are two main types of tinnitus. The less common form—objective tinnitus—occurs due to something in the body, such as a bone, blood vessel, or organ that a doctor can hear. This anomaly can sometimes be cured, making the tinnitus go away, as well.
The more common form—subjective tinnitus—is a sound that only the individual can hear. The sound originates in the tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia. When these fragile features of the inner ear are bent, broken, or otherwise damaged, they can be turned permanently “off,” as is the case with hearing loss. However, they can also be turned permanently “on,” which is the cause of subjective tinnitus.
Since we do not have a known cure for tinnitus within the body, what can be done to manage the condition? Let’s take a look at a few of the approaches that people take to dealing with tinnitus, including the new technologies that are available in conjunction with hearing aids.
If you have tinnitus, there are things you can do at home to help alleviate the symptoms. The first step many people take is to mask the sound of tinnitus with another sound. Some people find that the variety of sounds produced by a television are enough to cover the sound of tinnitus, and they might even turn on a tv at low volume to fall asleep. Some people prefer the sound of nature, and they might buy a machine that mimics the sounds of rain, wind, birds, frogs, or the ocean. These sounds can be less distracting than television, particularly while falling asleep. If those sounds are still too distracting, some people turn on a fan or a white noise generator. The hum of this sound can mask the sound of tinnitus, making it possible to fall asleep. In every case, the results tend to be limited to the home. Though these solutions can be helpful while trying to fall asleep, they can’t do much to manage tinnitus away from home.
You might think that meditation would be a worst-case scenario for tinnitus, and for many people it is. Sitting in silence, with only your own thoughts in mind, tinnitus can become the only thing you can think about. However, many people find that meditation is actually a good form of treatment for tinnitus. How does this work? For some people, the simple act of allowing tinnitus to pass in and out of conscious attention is a way to come to terms with the condition. Though tinnitus sounds are always there when you focus on them, they aren’t always on your mind, and meditating on the impermanence of your perception can be a way to manage tinnitus. Others choose the sound of tinnitus as the focus of meditation itself. By training the mind to return to the sound of tinnitus again and again, these practitioners find that it is easier to live with tinnitus outside of meditation contexts.
The latest hearing devices offer new solutions for tinnitus. These units emit a sound at precisely the same frequency as tinnitus symptoms, yet they are played in the opposite “phase,” effectively cancelling out that frequency of sound. Although they don’t work for everyone, this solution can be very helpful for reducing or eliminating tinnitus symptoms. If you are interested in exploring this technology, the first step is to get a hearing test. Once you have a full diagnosis of hearing loss, you can see if hearing aids can tackle both the issues of hearing loss and tinnitus at the same time.