We’ve all experienced settling in for a restful night’s sleep in a quiet room. We snuggle down under the covers and relax our minds, waiting for beautiful slumber to set in. Then, we hear the sink drip. Or we hear a tree branch tap a window. After a few minutes, we can’t do anything but focus on that noise. The noise takes over despite all our efforts to ignore it or block it out. Now, imagine the same scenario with the noise originating internally, from our own ears.
For the nearly 50 million people with tinnitus, a constant internal noise is part of their lives all day, every day. The word tinnitus is Latin for “tinkling” and while that may conjure images of a tiny, cute bell, the reality of life with tinnitus is not cute. In fact, it’s been known to lead to anxiety, sleep deprivation, depression, and social isolation.
The noise created by tinnitus presents differently in different people. The most commonly described noise is a high-pitched tone, but others have complained of ticking, clicking, hissing, chirping, buzzing, or pulsing. Whatever the noise, it is called subjective, which means it’s only heard by the person experiencing it.
The manifestations are varied and, frankly, so are the causes. Leading theories are excessive or long-term noise exposure, ear infections, nerve damage, head or neck injury, and damage to the hair cells of the inner ear. Certain medications may also cause tinnitus.
If the tinnitus has just started, seek medical care right away to determine if you have an ear infection or if you need to adjust your medication. In very rare cases, the noise may be a real noise caused by a cardiovascular issue and could be a sign of a medical emergency. If someone else can hear the noise, seek medical care immediately.
For confirmed, chronic tinnitus there is no current cure but there are promising treatments for learning how to deal with the effects, including mindful meditation. With mindful meditation, practitioners are encouraged to focus on a distraction without judgment. If a thought pops into the head, acknowledge it and move along. The same is true for any feelings or noises that may enter the meditation space. Accept the interruption with kindness and then return focus to the breathing. According to the Mindful website, “Mindfulness meditation practice couldn’t be simpler: take a good seat, pay attention to the breath, and when your attention wanders, return.”
There is not much clinical research on the impact of mindful meditation on tinnitus, but a small pilot study out of the University of California showed promising results. Average participant scores on the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory, which scores areas like social interaction, depression, and sleep, dropped from 50.6 (moderate) to 22.8 (mild) after 12 months of mindful meditation. The tinnitus did not go away, instead, the perceptions of their tinnitus changed.
The key to seeing results with mindful meditation is consistency. Luckily, establishing a practice is easy, inexpensive, and can be done right at home. Schedule an appointment with us if you have any questions on tinnitus or improving your hearing healthcare.