Ringing in the Ears: Facts About Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no corresponding or external sound is present.  It is often described as ringing, clicking, buzzing, hiss or roaring.  These sounds may be soft or loud, low or high pitched, in one ear or both.  These sounds are generated by your brain.

Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. Roughly 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus. Some cases are so severe that it interferes with their daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.

What causes tinnitus?

Most people who suffer from tinnitus have some form of hearing loss.  When you have hearing loss, your brain sometimes overcompensates by creating its own background noise.  On its own, tinnitus is not a sign of a serious medical problem.

Other causes include ear infections, medications, allergies, earwax, stress, high blood pressure and even alcohol.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

Get a hearing test by an audiologist or hearing instrument specialist!  The diagnosis is usually based on the individual’s description and medical history and is commonly supported by an audiogram.  There are many treatments and therapies available to manage and control your tinnitus.  You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat examination to complete the diagnosis.

Avoid tinnitus triggers such as alcohol, loud noise exposure, smoking.

How will hearing experts treat my tinnitus?

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, hearing care professionals, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find the ones that help.

Treatments can include:

Hearing aids. Most people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids create a dual benefit of enhancing hearing and masking or covering up the tinnitus. The majority of patients with tinnitus receive partial or complete relief from their tinnitus with the use of hearing aids.

Maskers. Tinnitus maskers are small electronic devices that look like hearing aids and are tuned to generate sound that masks or covers up the tinnitus. Like hearing aids, they may provide relief from the tinnitus, but will not enhance hearing and may interfere with understanding speech.

Many types of devices, such as fans, radios and sound generators can be used as tinnitus maskers to help tinnitus sufferers to fall sleep or get back to sleep.

Medicine or drug therapy. Some tinnitus sufferers develop anxiety and other strong emotional responses to their tinnitus. Certain medicines may provide relief from these emotional reactions and provide some relief from the tinnitus. Other medicines and nutritional supplements have provided relief in some patients.

Neuromonics Tinnitus Therapy. This treatment uses a combination of testing, counseling and specialized masking to help you to effectively manage and gradually reduce your response to the tinnitus. This treatment can take six months or more to complete but has the highest rate of success.

Counseling. People with tinnitus may experience anxiety, depression and other psychiatric problems. You may be referred to a psychiatrist or counselor as needed.

Relaxing. Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus seem worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.

What can I do to help myself?

Think about things that will help you cope. Many people find listening to music very helpful. Focusing on music might help you forget about your tinnitus for a while. It can also help to mask the sound. Other people like to listen to recorded nature sounds, like ocean waves, the wind, or even crickets.

What is the next step?

Schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional to evaluate and discuss your Tinnitus.