Tinnitus: In the Brain of the Beholder

Marc_Fagelson    Baguley_PTINN    David_Baguley

 

By: Marc Fagelson, BA, MS, PhD and David M. Baguley, BSc, MSc, MBA, PhD

Co-editors of Tinnitus: Clinical and Research Perspectives

Most audiologists and patients understand tinnitus to be the perception of a sound that is not connected in any way to an environmental event. For some patients, the sound produces minimal discomfort and is noticeable only a fraction of the time. Other patients are not so fortunate, and their tinnitus may persist and prove distracting when they are in the presence of other sounds or when they try to communicate. A relatively small proportion of patients with tinnitus, still probably more than 10 million people worldwide, have bothersome tinnitus that consistently reduces their quality of life and affects most routine activities. Such patients often respond to tinnitus as though its presence merits the attention and concern consistent with that demanded by a sound that is recognized as a threat. These patients illustrate some of the more confounding elements of tinnitus: it is a sound experience that may produce, or be associated with, powerful emotions and physiologic responses consistent with those demonstrated in fear-avoidance research.

A person’s experience with tinnitus may be complex and multi-faceted. Some patients link tinnitus to traumatic events, perhaps those that triggered the tinnitus onset. Other patients report psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression appear to exacerbate tinnitus and may be reinforced by tinnitus-related negative associations. Often, tinnitus severity is dictated not by the sound, but by the patient’s interpretation of and response to the sound. In this regard, the power of tinnitus to exert influence over a person’s life is in the eye, or ear, of the beholder.

Tinnitus interventions, then, may be viewed as proceeding along parallel tracks: abolishing or attenuating the sound may be the target of a treatment strategy, or the patient’s response to tinnitus may be the target of a management strategy. Both approaches are considered in detail, and with many examples, in Tinnitus: Clinical and Research Perspectives. Continue reading

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