Tinnitus (Ringing in the ears)
Tinnitus, from the Latin for “ringing”, is a condition characterized by perceiving sounds with no external source. As the name suggests, this perceived sound typically manifests as a ringing noise at a variety of frequencies. Other types of noises have been reported, from hisses and roars to rare cases of vocal or musical sounds. Tinnitus can be isolated to one ear or both ears. Usually, the perceived sounds gradually develop in intensity, rather than appearing all at once. While tinnitus is almost always observable only by the patient (called “subjective tinnitus”), some vascular or muscular conditions can cause physical oscillations which are perceived as tinnitus. This is referred to as “objective tinnitus”.
Tinnitus can have severely damaging effects on patients’ overall health and ability to function normally. In particular, patients who also experience depression and anxiety usually find that tinnitus exacerbates these conditions, since it adds a constant source of irritation. Functioning with tinnitus demands mental and emotional resources that are already at a premium, leaving the patient more vulnerable to further mental health challenges. Impaired sleep and concentration are common in tinnitus sufferers, since tinnitus acts as an inescapable distraction.
Currently, tinnitus is a condition that is managed rather than cured. The primary method of facilitating tinnitus management is psychological in nature. Cognitive behavioral therapy is commonly employed to decrease the patient’s level of stress and train them to function with their tinnitus. Patients also often use noise generators or recordings to mask and distract from tinnitus frequencies. The relaxation these noise sources promote can also keep patients in mental states conducive to better managing their tinnitus.