Most people with tinnitus also have hearing loss or are more sensitive to sounds. Researchers initially concluded that this was all caused by a damages inside the cochlea, that coiled organ of the inner ear where sounds are converted into nerve impulses. However, people without a cochlea can also have tinnitus. So, that wasn’t it.
Tracking down a physical cause is tricky. Nowadays the focus is more on the auditory pathways. Just like other brain pathways, the auditory pathways never completely shut down. Even in silence, the auditory system is continually active. A random ‘firing of neurons’ creates a kind of background noise that has to be filtered out before the brain registers it as sound.
Tinnitus may be caused by a breakdown of this filtering system. That might also explain why tinnitus worsens in a quiet environment – there is less noise from the outside world to swamp the background buzz. Yet the auditory pathway does not run in isolation from cochlea to the cortex. Other areas of the brain can link up with it and modify the signals as well.
Neurons deprived of decent input from the cochlea may start sprouting in other directions and make new synapses, which would mean that what the brain ‘hears’ may not even travel directly up the auditory pathway.
Connections with the limbic and autonomic systems could help explain why anxiety and stressful moods increase the sensation. In short, the perception of sound can involve every functioning neuron in the auditory pathway as well as inputs from the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system.
The disputes over the causes of and treatments for tinnitus seem set to rumble on for a good while yet. And it is still early days for a medicine as a cure.
So far we have never had a client who totally lost the tinnitus. So, doing Listening Training will most not likely be the full answer, but it has still been effective in many cases, mainly because of its calming effect on the overall nervous system. It does become much easier to bear when you are relaxed and have learnt to redirect your focus to more pleasurable things. Give us a call to discuss what your options are.