There seems to be some confusion as to the accurate pronunciation of the word “tinnitus.” Some people pronounce it “ti-nahy-tuhs,” while others choose to say “ti-nə-təs.” In fact, both pronunciations are equally accurate and it just comes down to personal preference.
I tend to prefer to say “ti-nə-təs,” as this pronunciation and its roots seem to be a more accurate description of this symptom. The word “tin” in Latin means “to ring” and “itus” means inflammation. But the mechanism behind the phantom sounds often resulting in a high pitched ringing, does not appear to be related to any sort of inflammation.
Therefore, I personally choose to pronounce the word “ti-nə-təs” to more accurately reflect what we believe the etiology to be. But really the choice is yours.
The question often arises: “Doesn’t the ringing associated with tinnitus come from the ears?” Ask anyone with tinnitus and they can tell you how the sensation feels more like it is coming from somewhere in their head. When tinnitus is “unilateral” it means it is heard in one ear. “Bilateral” means it is heard in both ears. And this is, in fact, true. We know now that tinnitus is actually a problem not in the ears but in the brain. Although most cases of tinnitus come with some amount of hearing loss, it is the brain’s mis-interpretation of the signal that results in the ringing, chirping, whooshing, crackling noises we call tinnitus.
Most people with tinnitus notice that stress is a trigger for the worsening of tinnitus. This is why most management tools for relieving tinnitus include some form of relaxation as a way to lessen and prevent the discomfort. Although we are not certain, this may be the reason why acupuncture, deep breathing, exercise, a change in diet, getting more sleep, and certain medications have been helpful for some in reducing tension and stress and, in turn, relieving some tinnitus bother.
What is great about using breathing exercises as a way to relieve tension is that breathing is free, it goes with you everywhere, and you don’t need a prescription! Here is a deep breathing exercise to help manage the stress that is part of living:
Whenever and wherever you need it—morning, noon, and night—simply push back from whatever you are doing and close your eyes (if that feels comfortable to you). Sitting or standing comfortably in a way that does not obstruct your breathing, placing your awareness on the sensation of this breath; breathing in through the nose and out through your nose. Allowing each breath to fill your chest and belly. Continue the gentle, even flow of each wave of breath for ten deep belly breaths. At the end of ten deep breaths, notice if you feel a release of tension. If the tension remains, continue with ten more deep belly breaths. When you are ready, open your eyes knowing that the breath is always there to help you find balance—no matter where you are and no matter what life throws your way.
A practice of yoga is an important part of any mindfulness practice. Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “to yoke” and can be viewed as a moving meditation linking or yoking our awareness of the body’s movements and sensations with the mind. So we practice gentle yoga postures, linking the breath with each movement. Breathing in deeply with each posture, we notice the world of sensations felt in our bodies. This often is an opportunity to notice the mind’s habitual reactions to the pleasant, unpleasant, and/or neutral sensations we feel in any given moment. The tendency to want certain postures to end, the judging of one’s performance, the comparisons to others or to yourself at a different moment in time are noticed and observed as just activities of the mind. We bring awareness to the habitual clinging to these thoughts and automatic reactions as we gently and lovingly return our attention to the breath, to the body’s posture in the present moment. We observe whatever is there to be felt.
There are many different kinds of yoga, from Bikram Yoga to Ashtanga to Flow and Restorative Yoga. People often come to a specific type to address chronic pain, for relaxation, or to cope with stress. What these practices all have in common though is the coming together of the mind, the breath, and the body in a practice of bringing awareness to the present moment.
The ear can be divided into three sections, the outer ear, the middle ear, and the inner ear. Hearing loss or pain in the outer or middle ear is often easy to treat. However, when our hearing sensory organ—the cochlea—in the inner ear is damaged, permanent hearing loss is the result. This is also known as sensori-neural hearing loss. Inside the cochlea we have these fragile hair cells, or cilia, that take an electrical signal and convert this to a chemical signal. This chemical signal is then transmitted to the auditory nerve and sound processing centers in the brain. The hair cells are laid out from low to high frequencies, much like the keys of a piano go from low to high notes. When this strip of hair cells is rolled into the cochlea, high frequency hair cells, the ones closest to the the cochlea’s opening, are the ones most exposed to potential injury. This is why we usually lose our hearing up in the higher frequencies as we age. Once these tiny hair cells are damaged, hearing loss is the inevitable result.
Can Hearing Aids Help?
Hearing aids are helpful for some people suffering with tinnitus. Theories describing the onset of tinnitus explain how the tinnitus sound occurs in the frequencies that are lost. Therefore, a hearing aid may help: 1) it gives us more sound stimulation, and 2) it allows more sound to enter the ear, providing the ear and brain with enough stimulation so that tinnitus is not triggered. Your audiologist can fit you with hearing aids to see if using them could be helpful.