BY HUGH KRUZEL
You’re not imagining things. Tinnitus is a perception of sound when there is no noise to be heard. For some, it is as loud a buzzing chainsaw or high revving race car, but it could be subtle like the sound of surf in a seashell or insistent like a ringing bell.
Between 10 and 20 percent of Sudbury residents may experience it as a temporary affliction or it may muscle right in and potentially mess with life for the long haul. The sound can be so loud it can be overwhelming and even prompt insomnia, fatigue, depression and negative thoughts.
The Tinnitus Association of Canada estimates as many as 360,000 Canadians suffer from annoying tinnitus and about 150,000 Canadians experience a degree of tinnitus that significantly affects their quality of life.
For Kim Scott, executive director of The Canadian Hard of Hearing Association (CHHA) Sudbury Branch, tinnitus is more like riding the TTC subway in one ear and French horns in the other.
“I’ve had it all my life, I remember as a child trying to describe it. It changed when I had medical intervention in 1995.” Scott has a Cochlear implant but still she hears background buzz.
Participants at a meeting at the CHHA centre at 435 Notre Dame Ave., described sizzling or hissing, crickets, humming, power wires or transformer noise, whistling, pounding, construction; it seems to be a unique experience for each. It can feel like it is in one ear or both, in your head, or even come from outside or far away.
Tinnitus may be a symptom of a more serious disorder although having it does not mean you will go deaf. If it comes on suddenly, you should see your doctor immediately. Typically once you have seen your doctor, you will be sent to an audiologist or even an otolaryngologist – ear nose and throat specialist – because all these systems are connected by the Eustachian tube.
Is there an underlying medical cause? Often from neuro-muscular disorders or cardio vascular problems, tinnitus can also be initiated by dental issues (TMJ), head trauma (concussion), MS , surgery, or a simple sinus infection.
Scott says, “Consider the effects of anxiety, pressure, stress, age, anxiety, diabetes, infection, and thyroid issues on other body systems. Any change in your body even psychological can trigger tinnitus, and it can affect any part of your auditory pathway.”
“Good sleep is important as is regular bedtime and rising at an early hour,” says Scott. “There is no one treatment or medication that will solve tinnitus.”
Some try alternative choices, but Scott is clear “I am not a doctor or endorsing any one method.” The spectrum includes acupuncture, herbal remedies, Craniosacral Therapy, Hyperbaric Oxygen, hypnosis, Magnet Therapy, relaxation techniques, naturopathic, and homeopathic visits.
Tinnitus can often be successfully managed. Finding an answer is as unique as your experience with tinnitus. The Tinnitus Association of Canada recommends:
* Counselling aimed at reducing the stress and distraction associated with the tinnitus. It is important to change the person’s perception of the tinnitus.
* Diet: Often high levels of salt and caffeine, as well as nicotine, can cause an increase in tinnitus.
* Stress Management and Relaxation: There is a high correlation between stress and an increase in the loudness of one’s tinnitus. Many strategies aimed at reducing stress can be very effective at controlling tinnitus.
* Support Groups can offer emotional support by sharing experiences and useful strategies for dealing with tinnitus.
* Auditory Habituation (TRT): This is a type of therapy whereby a noise is presented via a “noise generator” into the effected ear(s) at a soft enough level such that the brain perceives both the noise and the tinnitus. Eventually, the brain may relearn a pattern that will de-emphasize the importance of the tinnitus.
* The use of an external electronic device to produce sound which can cover up or mask the tinnitus can sometimes be very effective in providing relief from tinnitus.