Have you ever had a ringing in your ears after a loud noise or a knock to the head, and did it go away after a few minutes? What if that noise stayed or became louder or sharper? For some people it doesn’t fade. Instead it comes and goes unexpectedly and can cause persistent and severe difficulties. This is called Tinnitus.
Some call it “ringing in the ears” or “head noise”, and sounds can include tones, whistles, hisses, static and pops, occurring individually or in combination, with patterns and changes in volume unique to each person. It is commonly known to affect experienced musicians who have listened to too much loud music, but I’ve recently discovered it affects all sorts of people and some quite severely, such as war veterans, construction workers, and even parents of crying infants. It has been suggested it will be a growing problem with increasing use of personal music players, with the volume set much too high!
The presenting issues can include headaches, reduced concentration, stress, insomnia, frustration, or anger. Depression, anxiety, panic or phobias can also develop if the condition is not properly addressed. For me, tinnitus has been the cause of restless nights with difficulty getting to sleep. I’ve had to work at not getting frustrated with the noise and agitated or worked up, at the risk of making the situation worse!
The suggested medical treatment is TRT or Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, but I was glad to discover that there are non-medical interventions for what I assumed was a purely medical condition. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), exposure therapy and mindfulness have been found to be effective! These don’t remove the symptoms but help with better coping including being able to ‘ignore’ the symptoms, which is often the best outcome. For example, CBT challenges unhelpful thought patterns and replaces them with more beneficial self-talk. This more grounded and realistic way of thinking creates a greater sense of calm, and promotes habituation and adjustment to the sounds and sensations. Mindfulness similarly aims to reduce the impact of the symptoms by practicing acceptance of your whole experience, including the parts that might be unpleasant and beyond your control. For more info, speak to your psychologist.
For me I’ve learnt that psychological interventions can be more broadly beneficial than we might think!
For more about how one psychologist treated and overcame his own tinnitus see http://www.cbtfortinnitus.com/dr-hubbards-story/