We live in a world where we are constantly subjected to invasive sounds. The word tinnitus or ‘ringing in the ears’ is derived from the Latin word tinnire meaning ‘ringing’ and refers to the sounds that can be heard in one or both ears and which nobody other than ourselves can hear. The ringing sensation we experience when entering a silent environment is quite normal and not be confused with the range of noises experienced by tinnitus sufferers, the most common of which is a high pitched ringing sound.
Other noises experienced by sufferers are described as swooshing, buzzing, hissing, rhythmic or thumping sounds and occasionally music or musical tones. The difference is that these sounds can sometimes be loud enough to disrupt our daily routine or sense of hearing. Whilst most of us will have experienced tinnitus, if only briefly, and usually when suffering from a cold, it is believed that approximately 5 to 10% of people find their lives affected by this persistent and troublesome condition.
There have been many references made to tinnitus throughout history. It was described as ‘whispering or singing’ by the Mesopotamians and treatment was by way of chanting words into the ear. This is similar to one of today’s methods of treating tinnitus whereby an earpiece or music is used to emit a noise in order to muffle sounds. In Egyptian times, reed stalks infused with herbs, frankincense and various oils were used to treat the condition.
It is believed that Beethoven’s deafness was down to tinnitus although he may also have
suffered from a condition known as Meniere’s disease, a disorder characterised by attacks of dizziness, buzzing in the ears and progressive deafness due to chronic disease of the labyrinth of the ear.
Coming back to today, tinnitus has become a professional hazard for people such as Black Eye Peas star, Will.i.am who is reported to have commented ‘I don’t know what silence is anymore’, and now suffers from the condition.
Being exposed to loud noise over a couple of hours such as when you are at a rock concert may lead to temporary hearing loss but when that exposure is constant and over a long period of time it can damage the sensitive nerve endings in the auditory canal and lead to the development of tinnitus.
Specific causes of tinnitus are difficult to identify. If you suspect you may have the condition these are the steps you should take:
- The first thing you should do is consult your doctor so that he can confirm diagnosis and then eliminate such common causes as excessive earwax, middle ear infections or due to being a side effect of some medicines.
- If your symptoms are severe, you may be referred to an ENT specialist
- Your doctor may then refer you to a specialist who will provide you with earpieces or maskers to help ‘mask’ any unwanted sounds.
- Problems with hearing may also be due to constriction in the head or neck area. Dental treatment or an injury such as whiplash can cause tension in these areas and lead to tinnitus. Consult a craniosacral therapist or osteopath if this could be the case.
- Cutting down on consumption of cheese, alcohol, salt, caffeine and chocolate may also help.
- As we grow older, tinnitus can be linked to loss of hearing due to the reduction of blood flow to the auditory nerves. Vitamin B, zinc and magnesium supplements and use of an extract of the herb Ginkgo biloba from A.Vogel may prove beneficial for elderly people with hearing difficulties.