Tinnitus and Reduced Sound Tolerance
What is Tinnitus?
The most common type of tinnitus is Subjective Tinnitus. This is awareness of sound in the head or ears in the absence of any corresponding external sound. Tinnitus can be perceived as any sound or combination of sounds, however, common descriptions of tinnitus include ‘ringing’ or ‘hissing’.
Sounds from the head or ears that can be detected externally are known as Objective Tinnitus or Somatosounds.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Awareness of tinnitus often follows a change in the hearing system or a change in the function in the regions of the brain associated with attention or emotion.
Our hearing system is very flexible as it is constantly being optimised for different hearing environments. This means that a healthy hearing person can comfortably hearing very soft sounds (e.g. rustling grass) or extremely loud sounds (e.g. loud music at a concert).
If the sensitivity of the hearing system is not appropriate for an environment, say after a listening to loud music at concert your hearing is less sensitive than it should be for a quiet room, tinnitus may be heard.
Tinnitus tends to be most problematic when the brain has focused significant attention on the signal and a strong emotional association has been formed.
In some quite rare cases tinnitus can be a symptom of a medical condition that requires treatment.
Tinnitus is Normal and Common
Tinnitus can be heard by at least 98% of people in certain circumstances such as listening actively for a time in a very quiet room.
People with no detectable hearing loss may experience tinnitus, although it is most common when some temporary or permanent hearing loss is present.
About 20% of the population report experiencing tinnitus on occasion with around 1% experiencing significant annoyance from their awareness of tinnitus.
Tinnitus Assessment and Treatment
Awareness of tinnitus sounds from time to time is quite normal. However, if tinnitus is causing significant distress then you should see an MNZAS Audiologist for assessment of your tinnitus and hearing. Your MNZAS Audiologist will arrange referral for medical investigation if appropriate.
Tinnitus is usually most bothersome at night or other times when it is quiet. The easiest treatment for tinnitus is therefore to avoid silence through adding soft sound to your environment. Commonly used sounds include nature sounds (e.g. relaxation music, classical music).
Treatment for tinnitus may include directive counselling, tinnitus retraining therapy, masking or use of hearing aids to reduce the effects of hearing loss.
Many MNZAS Audiologists specialise in the tinnitus assessment and treatment.
Reduced Sound Tolerance
What is Reduced Sound Tolerance?
This is the abnormal discomfort experienced following exposure to sound. There are several different types. Discomfort caused by louder sounds when significant hearing loss is present is known as Recruitment. Hyperacusis is discomfort experienced when exposed to normal or loud sounds in the absence of hearing loss. Misophonia/Phonophobia is an abnormal sensitivity to specific sounds when they are at normal or even a soft level.
What Causes Reduced Sound Tolerance?
Similar to tinnitus, reduced sound tolerance is caused by a change in the hearing system or a change in the processing of sound in the brain.
Reduced Sound Tolerance and Tinnitus
About 60% of those who experience problems with tinnitus also have difficulty with reduced sound tolerance. Treatment for these conditions may be similar and conducted at the same time.
Many MNZAS Audiologists specialise in the assessment and treatment of reduced sound tolerance and tinnitus.