Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of sound. Described another way, tinnitus is hearing an intermittent or constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, or heartbeat sound when there is no such sound.
In order to understand what causes tinnitus, and eventually how to cure tinnitus, we have to understand how the ear works. The ear is a fairly complex organ that converts soundwaves into brain signals by passing the waves through the ear canal, onto the ear drum and then through the ear bones into the cochlea (inner ear), a small shell like structure that picks up individual frequencies. The cochlea works by transmitting different frequencies from the point where it receives the frequency to the corresponding point in the brain. The brain and cochlea are arranged exactly alike, with the frequencies (pitches) that are next to each other on the cochlea being exactly next to each other in the brain as well.
Tinnitus is caused when a particular frequency range in the cochlea is damaged and no longer sends information to the brain. This may seem strange at first as tinnitus is caused by the brain NOT receiving signals rather than receiving too many. To explain this, we need to understand one more piece of the puzzle of hearing: what do you hear when you hear nothing? Your brain is actually hearing a steady state of sounds, however soft, at every frequency simultaneously. Your brain tells you that you hear sounds only when it detects a pattern in the consistent noise it’s receiving. So, when you stop receiving signals from a particular frequency, it can no longer detect any patterns so you will at first hear nothing at that frequency. If you don’t hear anything at a particular frequency at first, why do you eventually hear too much at that frequency?
Your brain is incredible and is very, very good at reusing space. For example, if you are blind your brain will often convert the areas traditionally used for image processing to instead process extra audio, smell, and taste sensations. In the case of tinnitus, your brain quickly recognizes that you no longer have a use for the space reserved for the frequencies that are damaged in your cochlea, so it reuses the space for other frequencies. The frequencies near the damaged frequencies are given extra processing power. So they become better at detecting patterns and also tend to spontaneously fire more often. Unfortunately, that means they detect sounds much more regularly than other frequencies are detected, prompting the brain to create ringing or tinnitus.
This is where BeyondTinnitus comes in. Our revolutionary application has completely changed the way traditional tinnitus rehabilitation is administered, allowing you to undergo therapy while listening to your own favorite music. We have found that traditional white noise works by covering up all frequencies, but in reality is unnecessary.
If you cover up very particular frequencies then you can actually listen to music or other ambient sounds on the rest. It leaves our patients with the enjoyable experience of being able to rehabilitate their brain's production of the tinnitus sound by listening to their favorite music as they go about their day.
If you would like to learn how our application works, click here to find out more about tinnitus treatment.
If you would like to learn more about the science behind our tinnitus therapy, click here for more in-depth information on our tinnitus research.
Tinnitus doesn’t actually affect the damaged regions of the cochlea, but instead affects the areas directly around the damaged zones in the brain. Therefore, we need to focus on those frequencies and how to affect their brain functioning. As we found out in the causes section, those frequencies are now overly active in detecting sounds. In the past, the thinking has been pretty simple: just play sounds on the affected frequency to allow the ear to detect an actual noise instead of a perceived noise.
That treatment works a little bit, but it has serious drawbacks because you are only temporarily moving the tinnitus from inside the brain back to the ear that is hearing the actual sound. You will still hear the high pitched frequency; it just isn’t being created by your newly overactive brain any longer, it actually exists.
If we can’t cure tinnitus by just playing the affected frequency, what then? Doctors have experimented with using “white noise” to create sounds on all frequencies rather than just the one frequency that is affected with quite a bit of success. This way the brain hears sounds equally across all frequencies, affecting all parts of the brain. The affected areas are part of the white noise, so they hear actual sounds and the random, spontaneous noise stops showing up as often. Also, if you are hearing a lot of random noise then painful tinnitus gets lost in the noise.
This is good news for tinnitus sufferers because now they have a solution that can help them get better. But even white noise treatment has a major drawback: who wants to listen to white noise all day?