You've now had an unfortunate introduction to tinnitus.
This perception of sound such as ringing in the ears, without an external source, is a common symptom in various conditions. A survey by the Canadian Tinnitus Foundation reported that over 360,000 Canadians suffer from chronic tinnitus and unfortunately 50% of those are severely affected. Knowing this, it may not surprise you to learn that tinnitus is the number one disability claim of current and former male members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, our federal protectors.
What causes tinnitus?
Many a condition can influence the experience of tinnitus including a long list of over 450 medications as per the Centre for Hearing Loss Help, including higher doses of your everyday, over-the-counter aspirin. Other causes are a lack of auditory stimulation where your brain may create its own sensation of sound, the accumulation of earwax (cerumen), or settling down with an alcoholic drink which in excess can shrink the auditory cortex where sound is processed and interpreted.
Then there are motions of the head that result in something referred to as somatic tinnitus. The International Tinnitus Journal estimates that 30.1% is caused by musculature and motion of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), the area of the jaw just slightly in front of and below the ear. 24.4% of somatic tinnitus is associated with the head and neck muscles, followed by muscles of the limbs and eyes.
Does any other part of the auditory system play a role?
Understanding the structure of the inner ear consisting of the cochlea, vestibule, and semicircular canals is important for understanding tinnitus.
The cochlea is a fluid filled, snail shell looking structure that contains the hair cells attached to nerves that convert the vibrations into electrical signals. These signals travel up the auditory nerve to centres of the brain responsible for converting the signals into sound patterns we recognize as bird calls, drums, dogs barking, or cars passing.
The vestibule and semicircular canals are the sites containing the receptors for balance. Collectively, this combination of structures is known as the vestibulocochlear system.
Who's at risk of somatic tinnitus?
The risk factors of somatic tinnitus differ from those of tinnitus unrelated to motions of the head. Those suffering from motion-related ringing tend to be younger, female, and often have no hearing issues.
Are there ways to reduce tinnitus through exercise or certain motions?
Clenching the jaw affects the muscles of the TMJ and in a clinical study, 90% of the participants indicated that the ringing sensation became louder when they clenched. Some claimed it caused the noise to double or even triple in loudness! Upon further investigation, these researchers demonstrated that activation of certain muscle groups via specific motions of the jaw, head or neck activated certain cranial and cervical nerves. Cranial nerve V and cervical nerves 1 and 2 modulated ~65% of participant tinnitus.
Masking the noise is an option.
In a clinical trial, participants were assessed using the Tinnitus Functional Index and followed for a number of weeks. When they were exposed to white noise, there was a significant reduction in the impact of tinnitus on their daily living. White noise machines can be purchased in stores and online, but to ensure it is properly calibrated for your individual experience, it is worth sitting down with an audiologist.
Music for the mind, and your ears?
In a fascinating 6-month randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers recruited individuals suffering from tinnitus and measured the severity of their tinnitus using the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI). Based on the participants unique individualized tinnitus profile, they created music tracks that could help reduce their symptoms. After listening to the music file daily, the participants reported a decrease in their total THI scores meaning the perception of noise and its impact on their quality of life was significantly reduced.
It's exciting to see what treatment options are available for those whose quality of life is severely impacted by a chronic ringing in the ear.
Are there any herbal options that could help?
If you're looking to increase blood flow to the brain, then an option to consider is Ginkgoforce. The ginkgolides contained within Ginkgo biloba have the ability to dilate blood vessels and circulate more oxygen to the areas of the ear from outer to inner. When the structures of the ear are better perfused, they function better and minimize the risk of experiencing ringing in the ears.
As the herb targets the cerebrovascular system, it could potentially influence the delivery of nutrient-dense blood to the auditory cortex as well. In a clinical study, ginkgo and the application of soft-laser to the cochlea was very effective in treating chronic tinnitus by improving blood flow and activating repair mechanisms in the ear. It's important to find reputable sources of ginkgo to ensure you attain the appropriate amount of ginkgolides to make the herbal treatment effective.