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Sometimes it’s hard for patients with tinnitus to understand how they can hear noises when the sounds don’t exist in the real world. To help them comprehend this condition, some doctors explain it to their patients by equating it to phantom limb syndrome.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of a sound that has no external source. Some of the more common sounds reported are: ringing, humming, buzzing, and cricket-like chirps. They can also hear more complex sounds like bells, voices, or music.
Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease itself, so it can have a number of causes. It is most often caused by hearing loss, specifically damage to the inner ear. Hearing loss is often due to aging or loud noise exposure. It can also be caused by thyroid problems, blood circulation problems, head or neck injuries, and some medications. In addition to hearing loss, the condition can be a sign of ear-related problems such as wax buildup or ear infections, or even a benign tumor on the auditory nerve.
What is phantom limb syndrome?
Phantom limb syndrome is when people who lost limbs report sensations – often pain – in the absent limb. Scientist believe the brain is used to receiving sensory input, so when the signals from the missing limb cease, it starts providing its own.
How are tinnitus and phantom limb syndrome similar?
Like with phantom limb syndrome, the brain is used to sensory stimulation from the ears. So, if a person’s hearing is disrupted, their brain starts filling in the sounds it thinks it should be hearing. In fact, similar areas of the brain are responsible for both tinnitus and phantom limb syndrome.
Is treatment for tinnitus available?
The first step is learning the tinnitus’ source. If tinnitus is caused by hearing loss, hearing aids can be very beneficial.
“When a patient is fit with hearing aids, their brain is getting the proper stimulation to all expected frequencies, meaning it no longer needs to ‘fill in the blanks,’” CEENTA Audiologist Molly Koester, AuD, said. “This often will result in an alleviation or lessening of a patient's perceived tinnitus symptoms.”
Retraining therapy and sound therapy can also alleviate tinnitus.
Tinnitus care in the Carolinas
If you have tinnitus and would like to discuss treatment options, schedule an appointment with a CEENTA audiologist. They will do what they can to help you to only hear real sounds, not phantom ones.
This blog is for informational purposes only. For specific medical questions, please consult your doctor. Would you like an appointment with Dr. Koester? Call 704-295-3000. You can also request an appointment online or through myCEENTAchart.
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