5 Sep 2016

Tinnitus: the causes and impact

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 2:25 pm on 5 September 2016
RNZ Studio operator Brian Mahoney undergoing tinnitus tests

RNZ Studio operator Brian Mahoney undergoing tinnitus tests Photo: supplied

Most of us have heard that ringing in our ears after being exposed to loud music, or other noise. In most cases it goes away.  

But for about 10 percent of the population, that high pitched squeal is there all the time, and for some them it is so loud it affects every aspect of their life.

So what causes tinnitus and what can be done about it?

For Brian Mahoney, an audio engineer at RNZ, the noise got so bad he could no longer do his job.

He has been involved in some trials at Auckland University's Hearing and Tinnitus Clinic, and is finding ways to cope with what can be a debilitating condition.

Brian joined Jesse Mulligan along with the director of the Hearing and Tinnitus Clinic, Dr Grant Searchfield - one of the country's leading researchers in the field.

Dr Searchfield says those of us with tinnitus are not hearing an actual 'sound', but rather the brain's "interpretation" of what is going on, which we perceive as a sound. And what is going on is usually some form of hearing loss.

Yet those of us who experience tinnitus should not necessarily be overly worried about it, he says.

“Get good information, get a hearing test, get some advice. In most cases, it’s very, very benign.”

And what can be done?

Sound therapy, such as the 'Brownian noise' Brian Mahoney uses to treat his tinnitus, can help, Dr Searchfield says. Over time our brains can learn to "push the tinnitus aside".

So the best course of action is?

“Avoid silence, get sound into your life – find something that works for you, doesn’t annoy you – and then train the brain.”

Dr Grant Searchfield recommends the website Tinnitus Tunes

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