25 May, 2020
Approximate reading time: 3 minutes
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus may sound like:
- White noise
You can feel like you are going a little crazy because no one else can hear it.
It may be there all the time or only at certain times - like when you are lying down.
Sometimes it occurs in both ears or just one.
It can be high pitched. Or low.
There is a lot of variation of tinnitus.
Tinnitus can cause sleep difficulties, trouble with concentration and memory and even anxiety & depression.
Assessment of Tinnitus
You’ll be questioned about your hearing, vision, headaches and more.
Your doctor will wave their fingers around in front of your eyes and ask you track them. They’ll pop a tuning fork on your head. Your balance will be assessed - can you stand with your feet together? Maybe even challenge you further and close your eyes.
Your doctor will look in your ear and even listen around it with a stethoscope. Sometimes your doctor can hear the noise and other times they can’t.
You may be referred to get an MRI or CT. Or even to an optometrist, audiologist, neurologist or ears, eyes, nose & throat specialist to do further testing.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom, like leg pain. It’s not a diagnosis. There can be many causes of tinnitus, just like with leg pain. It could be the sciatic nerve pinched in your lower back or it could be shin splints for leg pain. The same is true for tinnitus.
Tinnitus can occur with:
- Normal age changes
- Exposure to loud noises
- Concussion or traumatic brain injuries
- Muscle spasms in the inner ear
- Jaw dysfunction (called temporomandibular joint dysfunction)
- Neck injuries or whiplash
- Certain medications
- High blood pressure
- Wax build up
- And rarely, growths
What Happens in the Brain with Tinnitus?
Tinnitus comes from several areas of the brain. Some regions ‘hear’ the sound & control its volume. Others are responsible for the type & pitch of the sound or the frustration and distress that it causes.
The brain starts to struggle to regulate its own rhythm in a part of the brain called the thalamus. Let me explain what that means with a silly analogy.
Think of your favourite song. Would you still be able to identify it if it was played triple speed? Or if it was sssslllllloooooooowwwwwweeeeeddddd right down. This is an entertaining game on the radio.
But it’s not fun if that’s how your brain is processing sound!
This is happening with tinnitus. The brain starts to go really fast (gamma brainwaves) and really slow (delta).
Additionally, the brain stops quietening down the extra sounds.
Confusing hey! This is why tinnitus can be so complex to treat.
What happens in the brain with tinnitus is still not fully understood. This is a vastly over-simplified summary of the current theories. Stay tuned for more updates as they come about!
Treatment for Tinnitus
You’ve been given the bill of good health and told to just get used to the tinnitus. And frequently people do learn to cope with it.
Sometimes you are motivated to do something about it. Because it’s really bothering you!
Neurofeedback for Tinnitus
Unlearn the brain changes associated with tinnitus through neurofeedback.
Neurofeedback is simple, non-invasive and has long term benefits.
Neurofeedback reduces the loudness of the tinnitus making it easier to cope with. A handful of research studies back this up, but more research is needed to understand who may get results with neurofeedback training.
After a thorough assessment, which includes looking at your brainwave activity, a specific plan will be formulated for you. This may include working on the auditory cortex, emotional areas of the brain, association cortex and body maps.
Nutrition for Tinnitus
Dehydration and nutritional deficiencies can make your tinnitus more annoying (Lee & Kim 2018).
Some supplements, like antioxidants, may help to reduce the discomfort and intensity of your tinnitus (Petridou et al. 2019).
Your Naturopath can also address nutritional factors that may contribute to hypertension and diabetes.
Manual Therapies for Tinnitus
It's been suggested that the biomechanical aspects of tinnitus are often forgotten about. In fact, 65-80% of tinnitus has a biomechanical component to it (Sanchez & Rocha 2011).
Relieving jaw & neck tension, giving corrective exercises and improving posture may be helpful for tinnitus in these cases.
Counselling for Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be more than just the physical annoyance. It may start to interfere with your sleep, ability to have a conversation or stop you from focusing at work.
Counselling may help deal with associated stress & sadness, reduce muscle tension and improve sleep.
Other Therapies for Tinnitus
- Medication - frequently antidepressants
- Sound therapies
Sometimes a range of therapies can be coupled together to get results. We are big advocates of a team approach.
- We are still a bit confused about what causes tinnitus but we think it’s the brain not regulating its rhythm particularly well
- Neurofeedback is a safe and fun way to retrain the brain to reduce the tinnitus volume
- Nutritional advice & supplements may help reduce tinnitus symptoms
- Majority of tinnitus cases have a neuro-musculoskeletal component
- Counselling can help cope with the anxiety that often comes with tinnitus
About the Author
Having experienced tinnitus briefly, Dr Cassie, our Senior Chiropractor and Neurofeedback Therapist, truly empathises with anyone suffering with tinnitus. “Luckily” for her, it was short-lived. She is one of a handful of practitioners who are certified to perform function brain scans in Australia.
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