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Ringing in the Ears: What a Scream

Last week was Tinnitus Awareness Week and the SayWhatClub shared many informative articles on the subject on our Facebook page, where you can scroll back through the posts to find them.  

WHAT IS TINNITUS?

Tinnitus or ringing in the ears is the experience of persistent sound.  It can be in one or both ears or inside the head, in the absence of an external source. A more technical description defines tinnitus as a sensory–perceptual disorder associated with negative affect and high impact on well-being and behavior.

  • Tinnitus comes from the Latin word tinnire meaning “to ring”
  • Tinnitus has two acceptable pronunciations—tih-NIGHT-us or TIN-ih-tus
  • 14% of adults experience chronic tinnitus
  • Hearing loss is the biggest risk factor
  • Tinnitus is number one disability for Veterans, according to military.com
  • Tinnitus is often accompanied by fatigue, stress, sleep problems, and anxiety
  • There is currently no cure for tinnitus, though there are various treatment options available to manage
  • Researchers believe the key to finding a cure for Tinnitus is repairing the brain’s “circuit breakers,” restoring the brain’s central gatekeeping system for control of perceptual sensations.

CAUSES OF TINNITUS

Most everyone experiences ringing in their ears when they’re exposed to loud noise, such as at a rock concert. If they are lucky the tinnitus goes away and no harm done. But, for many the ringing doesn’t go away. Chronic tinnitus can be caused not only by exposure to loud noise or hearing loss, but also by ototoxic drugs/medications, ear or head trauma, and Meniere’s or other disease.Most who live with tinnitus can confirm that all of the ringing, hissing, buzzing, humming, whistling, swooshing, roaring, clicking, squealing, chirping, screeching, pulsing, and trilling going on inside their head can be downright maddening!

I can’t remember a time without noise in my head, but that’s likely due to my hearing loss beginning in early childhood. As I lost more and more hearing, my tinnitus became more severe and harder to ignore and required more effort to manage.

hearing is a brain function

The Scream, 1893 by Edvard Munch

Even before I was diagnosed with hearing loss I knew about tinnitus. My deaf grandmother complained of it, and in her later years she claimed to often hear music that wasn’t there. Musical hallucination, written about by Oliver Sacks in Musicophelia: Tales of Music and the Brain is considered a more complex form of tinnitus.

Neuron in tissue culture

Studies have found that tinnitus and musical hallucination share a common source and neural substrate in the brain. I’ve often thought that it is possible for the two to combine as a way for the brain to make sense of the sounds it hears inside your head—hearing is actually a brain function; your ear merely transmits and transduces sound to the brain.

My tinnitus sometimes falls in the frequency of talk radio.  Occasionally, I actually hear a radio announcer talking inside my head for days at a time. This tends to be the most annoying version of my tinnitus.  I am thankful it doesn’t happen as frequently as the static I hear most of the time.

If you suffer from ringing in the ears or tinnitus, one of the best things you can do for yourself is to find othersSayWhatClub is a great peer-to-peer supportto share with who will understand how tinnitus impacts your life. Even if you find effective treatment and management there’s nothing more helpful than talking about your issues and comparing notes with others who ‘get it’.

Links to more information:

The Atlantic The Sound That Comes From Nowhere

Trends in Neurosciences An Integrative Tinnitus Model Based on Sensory Precision

Trends in Neurosciences Frontostriatal Gating of Tinnitus and Chronic Pain

Georgetown University Neuroscientists Uncover Brain Abnormalties Responsible for Tinnitus and Chronic Pain

Sciend Direct Tinnitus and musical hallucinosis: The same but more