Sight, smell, hearing… our senses have been designed by evolution as ways to know more and better everything around us.

However, sometimes complications can arise that cause some components of our senses to turn against us, causing us discomfort instead of informing us about what is happening around us. The phenomenon known as tinnitus, or tinnitus, is an example of this .

What is tinnitus?

A tinnitus is an alteration of our perception that causes us to hear a beeping or buzzing sound (although it can be described in many alternative ways) that is not produced by something happening outside our body. This intrusive sound can be more or less constant or come in the form of waves or “beats”, and can be heard in only one ear, both ears, or as if it were coming from inside the head.

Tinnitus may appear transiently after being subjected to intense sound that has damaged cells in the hearing system, but in other cases it becomes chronic, occurring for several minutes at least twice a week. Tinnitus can have a very variable intensity and frequency of onset, and in many cases it becomes so intense that it becomes difficult to hear what is actually happening outside the body. For this reason it is not surprising that tinnitus, although only a symptom, favours the appearance of anxiety or depressive disorders, as well as impairing the ability to concentrate.

Types of tinnitus

There are two main types of tinnitus: objective and subjective.

Target tinnitus

This kind of tinnitus can be heard not only by the person who experiences it, but also by specialists who use the appropriate exploration instruments. It is produced by vascular alterations or by muscle spasms that cause some parts of the inner ear to move abnormally.

Subjective tinnitus

It is the most common type of tinnitus and can only be heard by the person who experiences it first-hand . Although it is considered to be the most common form of tinnitus, its diagnosis is more complicated than in the case of objective tinnitus.

Causes of tinnitus

It is considered that subjective tinnitus can be caused by various disorders, many of which have to do with the blockage of the hair cells of the spiral organ of the cochlea , which are those that transform air vibrations into nerve signals that travel through the neurons.

When these cells, similar to microscopic hairs, make abnormal “contact”, they send a pattern of electrical signals in the direction of the brain that is intrusive and does not vary with changes outside. In this way, the signal from the hearing system becomes constant and chronic. For this reason, treatment of chronic tinnitus focuses on mitigating the indirect problems resulting from experiencing this intrusive sound.

Treatment of the symptom through psychotherapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most common approaches to mitigating the harmful and disabling effects of chronic tinnitus. Through this form of therapy patients are trained to learn how to harness the influence of certain actions and thoughts on the way tinnitus is experienced.

In this way, patients learn not to become obsessed with questions about the possible negative evolution of tinnitus , they channel their attention away from the influence of this symptom, they stop giving importance to unpleasant and unfounded beliefs and they work on their self-esteem. If the sound of tinnitus has been associated with a negative idea, work is also done to undo that connection between ideas or beliefs.

The idea is to stop tinnitus from being an incapacitating stressor.

Similarly, psychologists can also help the person adopt habits so that intrusive sound does not become the focus of their attention . Some of the options used are meditation and the use of environmental sounds that mask the constant pitch or tinnitus beats.

What to do if you experience tinnitus?

The first thing to do is to go directly to the family doctor , who will arrange for hearing tests to be carried out and, if necessary, can help to start psychotherapeutic treatment with a specialist.

Throughout this period, if tinnitus is causing sleep problems, the use of recorded environmental sounds (rain or crackling from a fire, for example) can help mask the intrusive sound and help you fall asleep.