Audiologists say help is at hand to manage tinnitus
Up to 20 per cent of Australians experience tinnitus at some point in their lives, but Dunsborough & Margaret River Hearing’s specialist audiologists want people to know they need not put up with it.
Tinnitus refers to any sound or sounds in the ears or head not generated by an outside source and is a surprisingly common condition.
Audiologist Michelle Soares-Mendes said the persistence of tinnitus could be frustrating, worrying or even distressing, and a surprising factor for many people was tinnitus most often resulted from a change in hearing. “Typically it isn’t the cause of any disease in itself and it doesn’t cause hearing loss,” she said.
“It can also be associated with having worked in loud noise and less often, head or neck injuries, stimulants and medications.”
Mrs Soares-Mendes pointed to stress, anxiety and poor sleep as other factors contributing to tinnitus but explained it was easily managed with treatment.
The origins of modern tinnitus treatment come from tinnitus retraining therapy developed and researched by the Polish lead team at Yale University by Dr Pawel Jastreboff and later Dr Johnathon Hazell.
The program recognises the central role of the brain in tinnitus, how the presence of tinnitus is interpreted and how the body reacts to it.
“Consider how we might respond if we were alone at night and suddenly heard someone breaking in,” Mrs Soares-Mendes said.
“We might experience fear or anger, our heart rate might increase, we might start sweating. These responses can escalate, especially if we are listening more acutely than the night before in case of another break in.
“The brain’s systems involved in these responses are the auditory cortex, the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system.”
Mrs Soares-Mendes said therapy was designed to encourage people to “habituate” or “desensitise” to the noise.
“Just like living on a busy highway and no longer registering the traffic noise that might have kept you awake at night,” she said.
Mrs Soares-Mendes has been fortunate enough to have trained under Dr Jastreboff in the 1990s and has since developed a multi-faceted approach to the management and treatment of tinnitus.
The first step in Mrs Soares-Mendes’ method is an appointment at Dunsborough & Margaret River Hearing, which involves an audiological work up to look for possible organic causes of ear damage or hearing loss.
Secondly, information counselling can help people recognise and understand the reactions to tinnitus, attitudes, thoughts and feelings.
Thirdly, sound therapy is used to reduce the frequency or duration at which the tinnitus is perceived.
Finally, a program of lifestyle strategies is developed to support a more relaxed physiology and make the person less ready to act in a “fight or flight” state. Mrs SoaresMendes said she had been fortunate to have seen great success in treating tinnitus patients for more than 20 years throughout regional WA. “I am especially delighted to have returned to the South West to help those in need in the Dunsborough and Margaret River communities,” she said.
Dunsborough & Margaret River Hearing staff.
Michelle Soares-Mendes performs an otoscopic examination on Lorraine Skender.