Tinnitus is a physical condition experienced as noise in the ears or head in the absence of such external noise. Commonly, this is a sound of ringing, buzzing, hissing or whistling. While tinnitus is thought to be the result of spontaneous nerve activity in the inner ear resulting from hearing damage, it is important to note that it will not make hearing worse.
Causes of tinnitus include head injury, loud noise, medication, age, excess ear wax and disease. In some cases the exact cause is not identified. There is currently no medication, surgery or other treatment that reliably eliminates tinnitus.
Tinnitus is fairly common, occurring in around 10-20% of people. Of these, a small percentage of people are seriously bothered by their tinnitus. The most common areas of life affected are thinking and emotions, communication, sleep and attention/concentration.
Although tinnitus is a physical condition, psychological factors often increase the severity of the tinnitus (i.e., the sounds are perceived as louder and more disturbing), and its impact on an individual’s life. The aim of psychological therapy is to equip individuals with strategies to help them live with tinnitus.
Addressing unhelpful thinking
Most people with tinnitus have specific thoughts and beliefs about their tinnitus, and some of these may be unhelpful (e.g., “I can’t stand the noise any more”). Therapy introduces skills for changing these types of thoughts to more helpful, but still realistic, ones. The new thoughts in turn, reduce the intensity of emotions such as frustration, stress, anger, hopelessness, and despair. This in turn can reduce the intensity of the tinnitus and reduce the impact of tinnitus on the individual’s life.
People who experience tinnitus often have communication difficulties; in particular, during conversations they may find it hard to hear the other person. This may be due to interference caused by their tinnitus, or because of associated hearing loss. During treatment, strategies are put in place to help alleviate communication difficulties, which often reduces levels of stress and frustration.
Many people with tinnitus find that it affects their sleep. There are also many other factors which influence sleep; working with a therapist to introduce good sleep habits can ensure that factors other than tinnitus are not contributing to or worsening sleep difficulties.
Attention and concentration
Attention is necessary in order to complete many tasks; inability to concentrate may lead to stress and frustration. We know that attention is most likely to be drawn to important, strange or fearful sounds in the environment. When tinnitus is perceived by an individual as important, or something to be feared, it is more likely to dominate their attention and make it difficult to concentrate on other things. Therapy aims to help reduce the impact of tinnitus on concentration, teaching ways to shift the focus of attention to other objects, sensations or tasks.
Tinnitus has been linked to stress. Some individuals report that tinnitus increases their stress levels. Others report that their tinnitus increases during stressful periods. Either way, stress management strategies learned in therapy may be useful in reducing the impact of tinnitus on the individual’s life.
If you would like to find out more about our treatment for Tinnitus, or to book an appointment with one of our clinical psychologists who provides treatment for this condition, please email or call the clinic on 02 9438 2511.