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Ringing in the ears 'is all in the mind'

Recent research suggests that TINNITUS, the supposedly incurable condition causing ringing or buzzing noises in the ear, is really a psychological disorder that can be cured like a phobia.

An estimated 50 million people in the United States and 500,000 people in Britain suffer from tinnitus, which is widely held to result from irreversible damage to the delicate hairs inside the ear. Research by an international project backed by the Royal National Institute for Deaf People says , the principal source of the problem lies not in the ear at all, but in the mind.

Tinnitus can begin with temporary damage to the ear caused by exposure to loud music and other loud noise. As the brain struggles to compensate for the damage, it can boost normally unobtrusive noises to distressing levels. But while for most people these ringing and buzzing noises vanish after a few days, some find themselves becoming increasingly distressed and disturbed by them. It's the emotional response to the tinnitus that makes some people become phobic.

The claim that tinnitus is all in the mind and is not an 'ear' phenomenon sparks controversy. Examining the ear to discover the original cause of the tinnitus, and then training patients to alter their mental attitude towards the sounds can take months or sometimes years. In order for the reprograming to work the patient's subconscious auditory system has to accept tinnitus as something that occurs naturally and not a threat or a warning signal. This process can take months and sometimes years and could involve using anesthetics to reduce the stimulus reaching the brain, preventing it from turning into a phobic reaction.


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