What Are the Effects of Tinnitus on the Brain?
The brain is a constantly adapting system. As we age and have new experiences, our brain develops new neural pathways and changes accordingly. However, some changes aren't for the better, and tinnitus can cause detrimental effects on your health.
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Like many other conditions, tinnitus can cause changes to your brain. Many of these effects are caused by your brain's malleability. Because tinnitus is complicating how you live your life, your brain adapts to make things easier on you. While this can lessen the negative aspects of having tinnitus, not all of these changes are healthy for you. Some of your brain's efforts are helpful, while others might cause more intense problems.
Changes to brain networks
When MRI scans were done on participants with tinnitus, the tests yielded similar results across the board. Tinnitus was related to a part of the brain called the precuneus. The precuneus was connected to two other networks in the brain, known as the "dorsal attention network" and the "default mode network". While the default mode network handles background activities during rest or relaxation, the dorsal attention network recognizes stimulants like noises and touch.
When something captures someone's attention, their dorsal attention network kicks in. Otherwise, their brain adjusts to let the default mode network take over. This system allows people to relax their minds and reduce mental fatigue.
However, when a person is suffering from tinnitus, their brain focuses on the ringing. This prevents them from lapsing into default mode, which is unhealthy for the mind.
The effects of neural change
Our brains are not meant to be focused every waking moment. This is why meditation, study breaks, and relaxation are necessary for the mind to recover. When someone is constantly focusing on the sound of their tinnitus, they're not able to fully relax. This can lead to both physical and mental exhaustion, fatigue, irritability, and insomnia.
In many cases, someone suffering from tinnitus might find it hard to ignore their condition. They're unable to concentrate on work or conversation and find themselves craving ways to drown out the noise. Listening to loud music might solve the problem temporarily, but this practice can worsen tinnitus as time goes on. Treatment is the best option, and there are multiple options for those suffering from prolonged tinnitus.
How treatment can help
While many forms of tinnitus cannot be completely solved, the symptoms can be alleviated and made easier to cope with. Many feel discouraged by this, and decide not to get treatment at all. However, just because a solution doesn't completely solve your problem, that doesn't mean measures shouldn't be taken to make your life easier.
For example, tinnitus maskers might not mesh well with people who work very social jobs. They're meant to provide white noise, which might interfere with conversations or daily life. However, they can be used in moments of silence to ease the mind and encourage relaxation. Tinnitus maskers can also be used while working, studying, or reading.
Likewise, many hearing aids can help with tinnitus brought on by hearing loss. The absence of sound can cause tinnitus to worsen, and hearing aids can help you hear better and drown out the ringing. According to a study, many of the neural effects caused by hearing loss can be reversed after thirty days of hearing aid use.
If you're interested in maskers and hearing aids, want to learn more, or just want to get your hearing tested, you might benefit from a visit to a hearing care professional. The Signia store locator can offer licensed HCPs in your area, along with their contact information, website, and directions to their store.