DO I HAVE TINNITUS?

August 21, 2019

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Dr. Darcy Benson

Dr. Benson completed her audiology fellowship at the California Ear Institute, Palo Alto, CA, and received her Doctor of Audiology degree at Salus University, Osborne School of Audiology, Elkins Park, PA. Prior to that, she received her Master of Science degree in Communication Disorders from Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, CA.
Dr. Darcy Benson

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Have you ever heard a ringing in your ears? If so, you have experienced tinnitus. Tinnitus can be annoying, inconvenient, or even painful for the many people who suffer from it. Interestingly, some people never really notice symptoms of tinnitus, even though they are experiencing it. Recent research indicates that people have varying experiences of tinnitus, and these symptoms originate in the brain, not the ears.

A study done at the University of Illinois found that the brains of people with tinnitus hear sounds differently than those who don’t have tinnitus. Even among tinnitus sufferers, there are differences the way peoples’ brains process sound.

What Exactly is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is actually just a symptom (not a disorder or disease). There are a lot of different causes of tinnitus, like noise exposure or use of ototoxic medications (medications that cause hearing loss). Approximately 25 million people across America are affected by tinnitus. There is no cure for tinnitus, and it is often temporary. It’s important to understand how to manage it and lessen its effects, or if possible, prevent it entirely.

Tinnitus Can be Affected by Your Feelings

Recent studies have found that the brain’s blood oxygen levels can change when exposed to different types of noise. Researchers discovered differences in the way tinnitus sufferer’s brains processed sound compared with non-tinnitus sufferers. “Good” sounds, like laughter, were presented, along with “neutral” and “unpleasant” sounds.

The Brain and Emotions

People with tinnitus engage with sounds differently in their brains, which can trigger emotion. Not so with people without tinnitus. The study also found that tinnitus sufferers who complain the most process emotional noise in different parts of the brain than the people who did not think the symptoms were bothersome.

This can explain why some people are very bothered by tinnitus, and others are not. This shows that the symptoms distress some people more than others.

Insomnia. irritability, depression, mood swings, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts have been reportedly caused by tinnitus. Some people merely report it as a minor irritant or even say it doesn’t trouble them at all. The people who are less bothered by tinnitus generally process emotion in the brain’s frontal lobe, while others process emotions in the brain’s amygdala.

Treatment Options for Tinnitus

This study helps explain why tinnitus is more bothersome to some people and not others. It may also help scientists to come up with more effective treatments that can target the cause of this suffering.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are often connected, but even people with normal hearing can have tinnitus. If you begin to experience tinnitus symptoms a trip to your audiologist is a good idea, and may help to prevent hearing loss. Hearing technology with sound therapy tools are shown to help ease the symptoms of tinnitus and hearing aids can also be an option for those who suffer from hearing loss and tinnitus.

Here at California Hearing Center we are committed to your hearing health. Call us today to set up an appointment for a hearing screening. We can discuss hearing aid options with you and work with you to find one that fits your needs and budget.