Tinnitus may be a disorder of the Brain, not just a hearing problem

As a disability examiner, I occasionally came across tinnitus on disability applications. However, I don't recall that much consideration was ever given to the condition. This morning, I gained a better appreciation of what it must be like to have tinnitus and how it may make engaging in normal daily activities, including work activity, very trying.

In the NPR piece, an individual with tinnitus was interviewed while they played a tone, something you might hear during hearing testing, or audiometry. The tone was not an exact match but it approximated what many people with the condition hear ever single hour of every day. It only took me a few seconds to realize that the capacity of this condition to drive a person out of their mind is pretty significant.

The interviewee said that his ability to focus, to pay attention to work tasks, to attend meetings at his job, was eroded. He did find improvement by adopting a technique of listening to in-between-station radio static. Apparently, this had a soothing effect and somehow allowed him to begin differentiate between sounds that he needed to pay attention to (most sounds) and sounds that he could ignore, such as the constant ringing of tinnitus.

I have no idea, and neither the interviewer nor the interviewee indicated, if this technique works for many people. My own father-in-law has tinnitus, though, before now, I've never thought to ask him what it must be like or how he deals with it. However, I can only imagine that, without developing an ability to compensate, by learning how to ignore the ringing, one could find themselves in a continual state of torment. Jobs which require extreme concentration and attention, and a lack of distractions, might become extraordinarily difficult.

A medical researcher who also interviewed stated that tinnitus may not actually be a hearing disorder, per se. It may begin with hearing deficits; however, the condition itself may be a function of the brain's inability to deal with hearing loss. In other words, when a person has tinnitus, a person's brain may perceive that there is a "gap" and attempt to fill in the gap by supplying the ringing sound of tinnitus.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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