Subjective Tinnitus

The Phantom Sounds of Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective Tinnitus, the infamous “ringing in the ears” derives its name from the Latin verb tinnire, which means “to ring.” It is said to be a symptom of an underlying process rather than a condition in itself. Usually simply referred to as “Tinnitus,” it is defined as the perception of sound in the absence of an outside noise source. 

Nobody hears what I hear

Subjective tinnitus means that the sounds are what the person says they are: Hissing, ringing, chirping, buzzing, droning etc. They cannot be detected by anyone else on the outside. And so, nobody can hear my wall of high-pitched din that I listen to 24/7. These are phantom sounds, I was told. And so, I like to call tinnitus the Phantom of the Ear.

Note: Hearing one’s heart beat or blood rushing in the ears must be reported to the doctor. This could be related to a heart/vascular issue. These sounds can be detected by the doctor. They are often called “objective or pulsatile” tinnitus.  

Ties to hearing loss

Subjective tinnitus is the most common type. In over 90% of the cases, it is due to hearing loss, such as sensori-neural hearing loss (SNHL), which is the result of inner-ear and/or hearing nerve damage. Tinnitus that is related to SNHL tends to worsen with progressive hearing deterioration. So far, there is no cure for this hearing loss or the tinnitus. BUT there are ways of treating and managing both issues. 

That said, conductive hearing loss can also lead to tinnitus. Obstacles such as earwax plugs, fluid accumulation, middle ear growths etc hinder the free flow of sound through the ear and onto the inner ear for processing. Some of these obstructions maybe treatable or even fixable. Once sound flow is restored, the tinnitus simmers down and might go away altogether. 

What is causing this? Get tested! 

It is said that subjective tinnitus sounds come from the brain and reflect the pitches or the frequencies that have been damaged or lost or whose path is blocked. 

And so, talk to the doctor and do not settle for the answer that  “there is nothing that can be done.” The obvious first step is to get a history and a set of professional hearing tests that can locate which part of the ear might be involved. Maybe something is indeed treatable. Also, discuss your prescription and over-the-counter medications with the doctor or pharmacist. One wants to make sure that they do not cause or aggravate the problem. 

Know your triggers

Observe your tinnitus. What makes it better and what makes it worse? Basically, anything that revs up the brain tends to make the sounds more aggressive. Stress, excess caffeine, loud noise and lack of sleep are known to contribute to the annoyance. Personality traits and emotions also influence how much tinnitus invades lives. So, what life changes can be made? What help is available? 

Professional and self-help  

Subjective tinnitus is a very complicated issue that can seriously undermine quality of life. And so, it is easy to buy into the many advertised “cures.” Again, before loading up on herbs and minerals and supplements, ask the doctor and/or pharmacist in order to avoid drug interactions and adverse health effects. 

Some hearing clinics specialize in tinnitus treatment, which can be pricey. Besides hearing loss help, they may offer tinnitus sound maskers, relaxation techniques as well as habituation therapy. 

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) helps patients demystify the phantom by  learning about it. Knowledge and understanding change their behavior or attitude toward tinnitus, which can make a huge difference for daily living. 

For the most part, tinnitus management involves sound therapy to calm and refocus the brain. Besides professional programs, many people try the commercially produced sound tracks. Fractal (wind-chime-like) compositions, nature and meditation tunes continue to be popular. One has to try what works. 

Most of all, use common sense and don’t let hearing loss get worse! Stay out of excessively loud places. Protect your hearing. 

That said, total silence also makes tinnitus worse. In total silence, the tinnitus sounds become all invasive. They are ALL one hears. Low-volumel music during the day and the whir of a fan or sound machine at night draw some of the attention away from the noise. 

In the end…

The search for subjective tinnitus relief is on worldwide. Meanwhile, don’t ignore the phantom. Get tested. Learn about the issue. Eventually, people come up with a management recipe that helps them. Obviously, Mother Nature is talking to us and we should listen. 

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For Industry Hearing Safety Training or for general presentations on all aspects of Hearing Loss and Prevention, please email monique.hearing@gmail.com

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