Stephen F. Austin State University
Feb. 20, 2002
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A police officer fires his handgun while targetpracticing. He forgot to put on his ear muffs and suddenly after theshot, he hears a faint buzzing sound. In this example, over time, theringing will probably fade for the officer. Almost everyone willexperience tinnitus in their lifetime. After all, loud noises areimpossible to avoid completely. There is only a problem when thesound from the tinnitus does not stop, or it continues to get louderwith time. For many people around the world, the ringing, buzzing,hissing or chirping sounds that make up tinnitus (tin-Night-us;Tin-nit-us) or acoustic trauma never go away (Alliance).There are several definitions of the word tinnitus. Tinnitus Awaydefines it as "a noise heard in the ear, or the sensation of noise asa ringing that is purely subjective." HearUSA says tinnitus is "a noise heard in theears." According to Tinnitus.com,Tinnitus was defined in 1999 as a sensory disorder. What does all ofthis mean? Basically, tinnitus is the perception of sound by anindividual when there is no external source of that sound. Soundburst hearing loss is due to damage to the auditory receptors, thehair cells, inside the ear. The vibration of these hair follicles iswhat allows humans to hear so when they become damaged, the auditorysense is set off, and the resulting noise is the sound heard bymillions of tinnitus sufferers. The other damage done to the ear bysound bursts that creates hearing loss is the deflation of thecochlea. This damage is usually caused by prolonged exposure to acontinuous loud noise. Acoustic traumas are caused by an explosivesound, sudden and loud, that can cause hearing loss (Goldstein,2002). The effects of these traumas can fade. However, they do notalways go away. A college student who had a fire cracker explode inhis hand only fifteen inches from his ear still had a ringingsensation two years after the incident.
According to the InternetArmory, sound is physically just a rapidchange in air pressure above and below the atmospheric pressure. Thedecibel, dB, named after Alexander Graham Bell, is used to describethis change in pressure. Zero dB is the threshold of human hearing,and 120 dB is the pain threshold. Decibels increase logarithmicallyso 10 dB is 10 times as powerful as one dB, and twenty dB is tentimes as powerful as that. An average home bedroom is very quiet,usually thirty to forty dB. A lawn mower can possibly cause hearingdamage since it cranks out 90 dB. However, when sound bursts causehearing loss, the cause is usually a gunshot. Gunshots are above thepain threshold and rank in with 140 dB.
Almost fifty million Americans have acommunication disorder. Of these fifty million, thirty-six millionpeople suffer from tinnitus. Normally, humans are able to adapt andcontinue with a normal life despite the constant ringing they hear.However, between four to seven million people have tinnitus that isseverely debilitating. There are many causes of Tinnitus. The mostcommon cause is exposure to loud sounds. Ear disease, infection,drugs, salt, smoking, caffeine and stress can also be linked to thedevelopment of tinnitus.
In society today, the normal activities aregetting louder. In one study, it was determined that the loudestleisure activities that today's youth participate in are playing in aband, going to music concerts, and shooting (Jokitulppo, Bjoerk,Akaan-Penttilae, 1997). In the corresponding experiment, fifty-onepercent of the subjects voluntarily participated in activities withnoise levels that are detrimental to hearing. The cases of hearingloss symptoms were directly correlated with increased noiseexposure.
It is sad to say that there is not much that canbe done about tinnitus or hearing damaged by pulse sounds. Onlywithin the past few decades has tinnitus even been recognized by themedical profession. It seems that the best "cure", in this case, istruly prevention. Most of the information says to use personal earprotectors. These are ear muff that seal tightly around the ear. Ifused, they should decrease the sound of a gunshot from 140 dB to alevel that does not impair hearing or cause ringing. If exposure tosound has already caused a permanent ringing in the ears, physiciansare working on ways to reduce the distracting effects.
Several organizations are offering possiblesolutions to tinnitus. One of the common treatments aim to decreasethe intensity of the tinnitus. This is done by finding anycorrectable conditions that could be compounding the tinnitus.Everyone with tinnitus should consult a otolaryngologist, an ear,nose and throat specialist, before seeking any other form oftreatment. Any form of blockage, such as a buildup of wax or fluid inthe ear canal, can add to or even be the cause of tinnitus. Certaindiseases such as hypertension or Meniere's Disease can cause aringing in the ears. A change in the diet can also decrease theeffects of tinnitus. Decreased caffeine intake can drasticallyimprove the ringing. Some behaviors also can increase the influenceof tinnitus. Noise exposure, jaw clenching, and taking drugs such asaspirin are all things that can be changed to lower thesusceptibility to tinnitus.
After exposure to a loud sound that causes aringing in the ears, a person should find a nice quiet place to relaxfor a while. If this is not possible at the time, then the personshould wear some sort of hearing protection. Ear muffs or foamexpanding ear plugs will usually decrease noises to a safe level.When subjected to loud noise, hearing protection is vital. Damagedone to hearing of higher frequencies is not often noticed until wellafter the fact since it is painless. The damage to the hair cellsadds up over time. The more time spent in the presence of excessivenoise, the more likely damage is to occur. However, no previousexposure to loud noise does not guarantee safety. Just one incidentcan result in permanent hearing loss or tinnitus.
All too often, there is nothing medically that canbe done medically for sound trauma victims. In such cases where thereare no medical remedies, several companies offer tinnitus maskers.These devices are worn much like a hearing aid and produce a constantsound and distract the wearer's conscious from noticing the sounds oftinnitus. Hearing aids produce a background noise that can act as ablockade against the sounds of tinnitus. Some people with tinnituscreate their own maskers by having objects that produce constantnoise around at all times. Even though these maskers do nothing tocure tinnitus, they are acceptable ways of keeping the sensepreoccupied to decrease its noticeable effects.
Masking does not always work. In some cases, nomatter what is done, the effects of tinnitus are still noticeable anddistracting to the person suffering. In these cases, the main goal isto increase the tolerance of the person to the effects of tinnitus.There are certain drugs which have been used for short term relief,but long term use leads to addiction. The most common are sleep aidsand anti-anxiety medications. There has been some Biofeedback therapythat has been shown to improve the patients' perception of tinnitus,and therefore has increased their tolerance levels. One such therapyis the Jastreboff Technique. This technique, also known as TinnitusRetraining Therapy (TRT), was created by Dr. Pawel Jastreboff.Treatment includes intensive counseling, the use of sound therapydevices and hearing aids to increase the patients susceptibility tothe sound of tinnitus. This treatment could take from one to twoyears. The goal is to train the patient not to focus on his or hertinnitus. TRT is not a cure for tinnitus (EarClinic).
In this day and age, natural cures are sought outby many people. Huge numbers of patients have claimed that GinkgoBiloba has assisted with their tinnitus symptoms. Where some peoplehave found relief with Ginkgo, however, others have not. The reactionseems to be on a purely individual basis.
Another form of counseling is hypnosis. A groupcalled Tinnitus Away promotes hypnosis as the most widely acceptedremedy for tinnitus. This company offers a series of tapes that areeach thirty minutes long and which are supposed to reduce the effectsof tinnitus through self hypnosis. They make claims that hypnosisputs the patient into a state called the alpha state, which heightensawareness and improves learning.
Despite the wide variety of techniques, TRT seemsto be the most effective out right now. Not far behind TRT ismasking. Avoiding environmental silence seems to be the easiest wayto deal with tinnitus. This can be done by introducing noise intoevery place one goes with devices such as "walkman's" or astereo.
Sudden sound bursts only account for a smallnumber of the tinnitus and hearing impaired people on the planet. Themajority of people damage their ears by prolonged sound exposure. Theconstant ringing in the ears caused by the degeneration or breakingof hair cells is an unpleasant experience which can cause people tobe seriously debilitated. Most people who have tinnitus manage tolive their lives in relative happiness, but to those it affects moreharshly, there is hope. The main cure for this disease is prevention.Avoiding exposure to loud noises without the proper protection wouldbe the best route to take. However, even if damage is done, there areseveral possible treatments that span a wide variety of options.There is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, which teaches the person not tonotice the constant ringing. There is hypnosis, that also holds thesame claim. Masking also offers an effective method for coping withtinnitus simply by increasing the environmental noise. Unfortunately,hearing loss caused by pulsed sounds is typically permanent and canonly be corrected with hearing aids. Changes in diet can also helppeople with tinnitus. A decrease in caffeine intake, or an increasein Ginkgo Biloba can effect the constant ringing.
If tinnitus or hearing loss has not alreadyoccurred, loud sounds should be avoided. If it becomes necessary tobe around excessive noise, wear the proper protection. Even iftinnitus or hearing loss is already present, exposure to loud soundscan worsen the problems. Also, the excessive use of alcohol, aspirinand caffeine should be avoided. Some use of these should befine.
Fastl, Hugo ; Schorn, Karin. (1981).Discrimination of level differences by hearing impaired patients.Audiology. Vol 20(6), 488-502.
Jokitulppo, Jaana S. ; Bjoerk, Erkki ;Akaan-Penttilae, Eero. (1997). Estimated liesure noise exposure andhearing symptoms in Finnish teenagers. Scandinavian Audiology, Vol26(4), 257-262.
Marshall, Lynne ; Brandt, John F. (1974).Temporary thresholdshifts from a toy cap gun. Journal of Speech &Hearing Disorders. Vol. 39(2), 163-168.
Micheyl, C. ; Arthaud, P ; Reinhart, C. ; Collet,L. (2000). Information masking in normal hearing and hearing impairedlisteners. Acta Oto-Laryngologica. Vol 120(2), 242-246.
Alliance Tinnitus and Hearing Center.http://www.tinn.com
American Tinnitus Association. http:www.ata.org/
Ear and Eye Protection is Foremost when Shooting.http://www.internetarmory.com/ear_protection.htm
Ear Clinic Information Center. http://www.earinfosite.org
Goldstein, E. Bruce. (2002). Sensation andPerception. (6th ed.). United States, Wadsworth. 567-568
Hear USA. http://www.hearusa.com/tinnitus
Tinnitus Information - Treatment for Tinnitus.http://www.tinnitusaway.com/