Tinnitus is a common and often distressing condition that causes a perception of continuous ringing, buzzing, hissing, or other sounds in the ears. These sounds can vary from mild to severe in intensity.
Unlike other forms of tinnitus primarily linked to inner ear or neural abnormalities, somatic tinnitus is distinguished by its responsiveness to physical activities or bodily adjustments. These actions may include jaw movements, head and neck positioning, or even contact with various parts of the face.
While the exact mechanisms behind somatic tinnitus are not yet fully understood, somatic tinnitus, as the name implies, has a strong connection to the somatic nervous system, which controls bodily sensations and movements. A consultation for tinnitus treatment can assist in identifying the form of tinnitus you have.
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Somatic Tinnitus and Associated Physical Movements
Somatic tinnitus is more common than one might think, affecting approximately 70% of people who experience tinnitus. This form of the condition often coexists with other types of tinnitus, such as noise-induced or age-related tinnitus. Here are some common causes of changes in the pitch or loudness of somatic tinnitus sounds:
Jaw Movements: Clenching the jaw or moving it in various ways can have a direct impact on the tension in the muscles and ligaments in the head and neck. This altered muscle tension can, in turn, affect the auditory structures, potentially leading to shifts in the tinnitus sounds.
Head and Neck Positioning: The position of the head and neck plays a crucial role in the somatic tinnitus experience. Tilting or turning the head, or even changing the angle of the neck, can sometimes induce variations in tinnitus perception. The pressure on specific blood vessels, nerves, or muscle groups is believed to be a contributing factor.
Facial Manipulations: Applying pressure or touching certain areas of the face, particularly around the ear and jaw regions, can influence somatic tinnitus. Even simple actions like wearing glasses or a hat can introduce changes in the perceived tinnitus sounds.
Somatic Tinnitus Management and Coping Strategies
Managing somatic tinnitus can be particularly challenging due to its variability and the potential influence of everyday activities on tinnitus perception. However, several strategies may help to relieve symptoms of somatic tinnitus:
- Identifying Triggers: Understanding the specific actions or movements that influence somatic tinnitus is a crucial first step. By identifying triggers, individuals can make informed decisions to minimise or avoid them when possible.
- Relaxation and Stress Reduction: Stress and anxiety can exacerbate tinnitus perception, including somatic tinnitus. Stress may also cause physical responses such as clenching of teeth and jaw, which can increase symptoms of somatic tinnitus. Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, have all been shown to alleviate stress and reduce facial actions or movements associated with somatic tinnitus.
The Crucial Role of Audiologists in Managing Somatic Tinnitus
Audiologists who specialise in tinnitus treatment are uniquely equipped to offer comprehensive evaluation and personalised management plans for individuals dealing with somatic tinnitus.
We spoke to Lee Fletcher, Director and principal audiologist, at Regain Hearing clinics in London and Kent, where his team of qualified audiologists provide tinnitus diagnosis and treatment. When inquiring about his groundbreaking techniques, he explained:
“When it comes to somatic tinnitus, a thorough evaluation is critical to uncover the specific factors contributing to an individual’s tinnitus experience.“
Audiologists can perform diagnostic tests to assess various aspects of auditory function and, in the case of somatic tinnitus, may pay special attention to the physical actions and adjustments that trigger tinnitus fluctuations. These evaluations may involve:
- Comprehensive hearing tests to identify potential coexisting hearing loss.
- In-depth interviews to gather detailed information about tinnitus triggers and the individual’s emotional and psychological responses.
- Physical examinations of the head, neck, and jaw to identify potential somatic factors contributing to tinnitus.
Identifying Underlying Factors
Somatic tinnitus often arises from the interaction between auditory, muscular, and neurological systems. Audiologists are trained to recognise these multifaceted factors and to differentiate between various forms of tinnitus, including somatic tinnitus, objective tinnitus (audible to others), and subjective tinnitus (audible only to the individual).
Audiologists work closely with individuals to identify the root causes of somatic tinnitus. They may investigate whether it’s related to jaw misalignment, muscle tension, vascular issues, or other physical factors. Pinpointing these underlying factors is crucial, as it informs the development of a personalised management plan.
Personalised Management Plans
No two cases of somatic tinnitus are identical. Each individual’s experience is unique, and their response to treatment may vary. After a comprehensive evaluation, audiologists collaborate with individuals to create tailored management strategies. These strategies may include a combination of treatments, such as:
- Sound therapy: Using white noise, nature sounds, or other neutral auditory backgrounds to mask or distract from tinnitus sounds.
- Counselling and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): Addressing the emotional and psychological impact of somatic tinnitus and developing coping strategies.
- Jaw or muscle-related treatments: For cases where somatic tinnitus is linked to jaw misalignment or muscle tension, a referral should be made to a specialist for corrective measures.
Consulting with an audiologist who offers tinnitus treatment is not just a valuable option; it’s an essential step towards improved well-being and resilience in the face of this distinctive auditory challenge. Audiologists provide ongoing support and follow-up care to ensure that the management plan remains effective.
Regular check-ins allow them to make any necessary adjustments and provide additional resources or therapies as needed. This continuity of care is invaluable for individuals with somatic tinnitus, ensuring they receive the most appropriate and up-to-date treatments.