By Dr. James M. Davenport, F-AAA, CCC-A –
For sufferers of tinnitus, the condition described as ringing in the ears when no external sounds are present, life can be difficult at best, and almost unbearable at worst. Those recently diagnosed with tinnitus – or who think they may have the condition – often experience frustration, stress and confusion.
According to the American Tinnitus Association, more than 50 million people in the United States suffer from tinnitus. Usually brought on by exposure to loud noise, the problem is especially significant in the military, with more than 34 percent of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering from the condition.
Eight simple steps to help with coping
1. Take time to review and evaluate. Tinnitus is usually not a sign of a serious, ongoing medical condition, but it is important to visit an audiologist or ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT) interested and experienced in tinnitus treatment to rule out possible causes that may benefit from prescribed medication or surgery.
2. Do not give up. More research has been conducted over the last 10 years than in any other time period of time in an effort to provide hope and answers to tinnitus patients. Tinnitus is no longer a condition that people “just have to learn to live with.” Sufferers can seek out a qualified medical professional who can review specific needs and help find the best solution available.
3. Reduce further damage. Tinnitus sufferers can protect themselves from further auditory damage by avoiding loud places, and by using earplugs when noise levels exceed safe listening levels.
4. Recognize that tinnitus is a multi-pronged condition. Tinnitus consists of an audiological component, a neurological component, and an emotional component. For effective treatment, all three components need to be addressed. When treating tinnitus, it is important to look at the condition from a broad perspective and take steps to address the problem from all sides.
5. Create an enriching sound environment:
Tinnitus sufferers can help take the focus off their tinnitus perception by filling their environments with pleasant and relaxing sounds. Some people obtain a great deal of relief by having a radio on in the background, at home or work, which fills in the quiet times that may reveal tinnitus sounds. Others find relaxing sounds – such as those of the ocean or a waterfall – to be relaxing. Music can be helpful as well. Experimenting with masking sounds are very important to find just what sound sources help the most.
6. Understand the “triangle of treatment.”
For most patients to achieve significant positive changes in their tinnitus, treatment is most successful when it involves three components: some type of ear-level intervention or sound therapy; a professional who understands the patient and is willing and able to work with him or her; and – equally important – a patient who wants to get better, and is willing to do his or her part in the process.
7. Be patient. Because tinnitus affects people in different degrees and ways, and because each person will react differently to a given treatment, it is important for individuals to exercise patience. Some treatments can take a few weeks, or even a few months, to have a positive effect. Individuals can keep an open dialog with their treating medical professional to make sure they are receiving the best treatments for them.
8. Develop a support system. Tinnitus sufferers are wise to educate their families, friends and co-workers about their condition, explaining any known triggers or situations that are especially difficult. Others who suffer from tinnitus can offer support and suggestions. Organizations such as the American Tinnitus Association offer advice and information on support groups for compassion, companionship and coping strategies. Some companies that provide effective tinnitus treatments have online blogs or social networking opportunities to share ideas and input.
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