Tinnitus Awareness and Prevention for Sports Broadcast Journalist
Dr. Tricia Scaglione, Au.D. Director, University of Miami Health System Tinnitus and Sound Sensitivities Program
Have you ever heard a high-pitched ringing in your ears after spending hours working at a loud arena or stadium? That noise is called tinnitus. Tinnitus is a perception of sound that an individual may hear either in their head or ears despite no actual sound being produced in the surrounding environment. It can affect anyone of any age, yes-children too, and is not just a symptom of the “Average Joe.” Singer Barbra Streisand, Coldplay’s Chris Martin, The Who’s Pete Townshend, and actor William Shatner are just a few popular celebrities who have been open about their own personal experiences with tinnitus.
Something as simple as excessive earwax, common as age-related hearing loss, or serious as a complex medical condition can result in the perception of tinnitus. Moreover, excessive noise exposure from sporting events or wearing a headset turned up to a loud volume level can have similar effects. Delving a little deeper, the onset of this noise is most frequently due to damage within the auditory system resulting in changes within a complex processing center deep within the brain called the auditory cortex. These changes trigger the limbic system to not only regulate how much attention the brain will pay to this new sound, but also how the body will react to it.
While the majority of the 50 million Americans who experience tinnitus report that they are able to “simply ignore” their symptoms, there are a percentage of those who find their tinnitus to be intrusive to their quality of life. These individuals describe disturbances to their concentration, relaxation, mood, sleep, work, relationships, and even social activities. The onset of symptoms may occur suddenly for some, while in others, may gradually develop over time. Tinnitus may also be temporary, resolving spontaneously within a couple of days, or may be experienced chronically over a lifetime.
Similar to more well-known chronic health conditions such diabetes and high blood pressure, there is currently no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways to both cope and manage the symptoms. Coping strategies, such as guided breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and use of environmental sound enrichment, can be helpful for providing welcomed distractions from the tinnitus and result in not only improved sleep and relaxation but decreased stress levels as well. Management options may include the use of hearing aids or tinnitus sound generators, both of which are worn on the ears, to promote habituation within the brain. Many of these devices have Bluetooth capabilities, allowing for direct streaming of phone calls and sound apps from smart devices to the user’s ears. Patients are often surprised to learn that delivering sounds to the ear through these devices can be extremely helpful in reducing the overall awareness of the tinnitus.
The onset of tinnitus as a result of noise exposure can be prevented by using hearing protection, such as ear plugs, when exposed to loud levels of noise such as screaming fans, crowd pumping music and arena buzzers. Disposable foam or soft-silicone earplugs can be purchased at any local pharmacy, while non-custom high-fidelity plugs are available through online retailers, such as Amazon.
For those interested in custom fit earplugs that help you hear speech while reducing noise levels consider a visit to your local audiologist. The audiologist will take impressions of your ear canals and assist you with ordering earplugs fit specifically for your ears. An added perk of custom plugs? You can order them in your favorite team colors, so choose wisely!
Broadcasters should consider a full-isolation in-ear monitor, such as the Sensaphonics 321 Custom IFB Earphone. This product helps the user to hear audio in noisy environments without the need to crank up the volume to unsafe levels and can be paired with a custom earplug in the opposite ear for optimal protection.
In addition to proper hearing protection, journalists and broadcasters should attempt to give their ears listening breaks, when possible. Half-time or intermissions are a great time to step away from the roar of the crowd, even if just for a few minutes. If you’ve never had a hearing test, now is the time to do so. Obtaining a hearing test allows your audiologist to establish a baseline for monitoring purposes and can be critical for the detection of early signs of hearing damage. Audiologists can also provide important tinnitus education and help to develop an individualized management plan.
Should you experience tinnitus that is only in one ear, notice it sounds like a pulsing noise or is experienced along with sudden hearing loss or dizziness, a medical consultation with an Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist is advised. A mental health consultation is encouraged for those experiencing anxiety or depression related to their tinnitus. For more information regarding tinnitus, visit the American Tinnitus Association (www.ata.org).
(Full disclosure: Publisher David J. Halberstam is a patient of Dr. Scaglione’s at the University of Miami. His wife, Dr. Donna Wiener Halberstam, teaches pediatrics in the university’s medical school.)