The Tinnitus Cycle

While the tinnitus cycle typically begins with a hearing loss, it is not exclusively an auditory problem. It is a result of neurological changes within the auditory system and within the parts of the brain that influence conscious attention and emotional state.  The result can sound like whistling in the ears or hissing, buzzing, or a variety of different sounds.

No single explanation applies to all cases, but the process outlined below describes one of the more commonly accepted theories about what causes the tinnitus cycle to take effect.

When the natural balance of sound is upset by hearing damage, the neurological activity in the brain is altered. This altered activity is interpreted by the brain as sound. This results in what sounds like whistling in the ears or ringing sounds commonly known as tinnitus. Tinnitus most commonly results from hearing loss caused by exposure to excessive or loud noises; however, it can also be caused by aging, ototoxic drugsTemporo-mandibular joint disorder(TMJ), depression, anxiety, Lyme disease or thyroid disorders, as well as ear infections or wax in the ear.

Normally, background neurological activity in the brain is covered up by everyday sounds. With constant tinnitus, background noise may mask the sound but when it is quiet, the person with tinnitus becomes aware of extra neurological activity.

Neurological changes may then cause the perceived sound to be more noticeable and disturbing.  For some people, the presence of tinnitus is troubling, and so the brain treats it as important and focuses on it, increasing awareness. This “increased awareness” can lead to stress, resulting in further enhancement by the emotional centers of the brain, and further amplification of the tinnitus propelling the tinnitus cycle.

Additionally, the brain can try to compensate for the hearing loss by “turning up” the sensitivity of the hearing system. This not only amplifies the tinnitus but can also make ordinary sounds uncomfortably loud for some people, further adding to stress and anxiety. Approximately 25% of people with tinnitus experience hyperacusis – or hypersensitivity to sound.

The result is the tinnitus cycle, a series of symptoms that can be self-reinforcing, leading to progressive worsening of the tinnitus over time. These factors have made tinnitus very difficult to treat in the past.

The good news is that several tinnitus treatment tools have been developed by several manufacturers including Oticon, Widex, Neuromonics, Otoharmonics, ReSound, and SoundCure. These breakthrough treatments can significantly reduce tinnitus awareness and disturbance for over 80% of suitable patients affected by tinnitus effectively eliminating the tinnitus cycle. Even better news is that Dr. Julie offers all of these tinnitus treatments to people in and around Denver dealing with this problem. Click Treatment Options below to learn more.

Learn More: Sounds of Tinnitus | Treatment Options

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