Ear Infection And Ringing In The Ear
"Negative emotions" such as fear, depression, and anxiety are paired with the sound of tinnitus for most tinnitus sufferers. Whether the individual experienced these emotions prior to the "onset" of tinnitus, is not critical to volume reduction. It is vital to understand how tinnitus and negative emotions are paired in the brain, so we can unhook them once and for all.
If we hope to "re-wire" the brain, we must know where and how to do the wiring. Therefore, we need to consider exactly what happens when we "hear" tinnitus. Once we understand how tinnitus is heard, then we can begin our job discovering what will help most people gain significant relief from the incessant noises.
For people who do not like listening to the noise we call tinnitus, the brain experiences ongoing stimulus/response patterns, over and over and over again. Day after day and month after month the cyclical experience occurs. The good news is that this pattern and cycle are correctable for most.
We know more about how negative emotions such as fear and noise are paired in the brain than about any other sensory stimulus and response. For years, scientists have paired noises with electrical shocks to create fear in laboratory animals. Scientists have dissected the brains of these animals, and we know the highways (neural pathways) that fear travels through the brain. We know where these distressing noises are heard and experienced. In other words, we know enough now, at the beginning of the 21st century, to create tinnitus and fear in animals. We also know, subjectively, what it is like to experience both tinnitus and the fear-related emotions of depression, stress, anxiety, and panic disorder.
The tinnitus sufferer is someone whose brain detects the noise and then interprets the noise as dangerous or threatening, in some manner. This evolutionary response saves the lives of those who have a brain tumor. A simple MRI scan can find the smallest neuroma, and surgery can save the life of someone who simply heard tinnitus caused by pressure on the eighth nerve. This is, of course, the exception rather than the rule in the tinnitus experience, however.
Humans are probably born with two fears, and only two. The fear of falling is one, and the fear of loud noises is the other. Severe tinnitus falls into the category of the second. This innate fear of loud sounds is very difficult, but not impossible to unhook. Until we begin to unhook fear from the distressing noise, no relief is likely to be experienced.
In addition to the two inborn human phobias, we know that disorders such as anxiety, phobias, and obsessive-compulsive disorders also tend to be predisposed genetically. This combination makes for a powerful recipe when tinnitus onsets. Overcoming genetic tendencies in experience or behavior is always challenging. Yet challenges are meant to be overcome. The challenge of tinnitus reduction is a great one, and people around the world accomplish it every day. Understanding the connection between emotions and suffering from tinnitus is critical to our solving this most challenging puzzle.
You will probably find this hard to believe, but it is true: About two-thirds of all individuals who experience moderate tinnitus experience no suffering from the noise(s). These people seek no medical or mental health attention, and have no significant negative emotional responses to the noises they hear. This is going to be another goal you will want to achieve.
Volume and Frequency: How Do They Relate to Suffering?
The best studies on the correlation between volume, frequency, distress, and suffering were done in Australia by Jane Henry, Ph.D, and Peter Wilson, Ph.D., and reported in the International Journal of Tinnitus in 1995. My interpretation of their research (and other similar studies) is summarized below.
- Anxiety is probably the only significant emotional effect of tinnitus for those who "cope" well with tinnitus.
- Depression is a common emotional effect of tinnitus for those who "cope" poorly with tinnitus and suffer from it. (The neurobiological differences between those who suffer and those who do not will be discussed later.)
- Extremely loud tinnitus is correlated to distress.
- Moderate levels of tinnitus are not correlated to distress.
- More severely distressed patients experienced elevated levels of depression.
- High-distress subjects report engaging in more dysfunctional thinking about their tinnitus.
- Dysfunctional thinking tends to be specific to tinnitus, and not generalized to life issues.
- High-distress patients tend to experience more general dysfunctional thinking when compared to lower-distress patients.
- Tinnitus is not necessarily a depressive disorder.
- Some people are severely debilitated by tinnitus.
So what is it that causes one person with tinnitus of 45 dB at 6,000 Hz to be severely debilitated by the noise, and another person with identical volume and frequency to find the noise largely irrelevant? The answer is in the brain, the emotional brain. To learn more about Tinnitus, you have to check out Infection And Ringing In The Ear.