What is it? Tinnitus (“TIN-a-tus” or “Tin-EYE-tus”, both are correct!) is the all inclusive term for sounds that are perceived to be heard but are not actually happening in the environment. Most often, it is described as ringing in the ears, but all the other sounds listed above (and more) still qualify. IT IS REAL. As an invisible symptom that can only be self reported, often times friends, family, and even physicians don’t take the condition seriously.
What causes Tinnitus? It actually isn’t considered a disease on it’s own, but rather a symptom. The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, but here are many different potential causes including:
Loud noise exposure
Too much wax in the ear
Certain types of tumors
Too much coffee
Drugs or medicines that are toxic to hearing
Will it go away on its own? Often times, yes. In fact, almost everyone will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives. Many of the causes of tinnitus are conditions that may resolve themselves on their own (like stress), or with medical treatment or lifestyle changes (like hypertension).
If it is chronic and does not go away, what is the treatment for tinnitus? Hearing aids are an effective treatment for tinnitus. In the vast majority of patients who seek treatment for tinnitus, it is discovered through a hearing exam that a high frequency hearing loss is present. Other treatments are also available and it is important to know that the way a person views their tinnitus has a huge impact on how pronounced it is. In other words, if a person views their tinnitus in a very negative light, as a problem that is interfering with their lives, then the tinnitus seems to be worse. If the tinnitus is “noticed” as a presence but is dismissed as not being harmful, then the person is able to focus on the everyday, while the tinnitus fades into the background. Some treatments include:
How do hearing aids improve tinnitus? The most simple explanation, is that the act of raising the sound frequencies that were previously not being heard, covers the sound of the tinnitus. The amplified sound could also soothe the inner ear by regaining stimulation in those areas. The second method of relief is by fitting a device with a tinnitus masker feature. This is basically a noise machine in the hearing aid which can provide an array of different sounds to mask the tinnitus at the frequency and volume at which it presents, in order to soothe it. Most patients find some relief just by wearing hearing aids that are programmed appropriately for their hearing loss. While they wear the devices the tinnitus is soothed and even when they remove them, many patients report that their tinnitus is still somewhat reduced. In severe cases, some patients will wear their hearing aids while sleeping to retain the full benefits throughout the night. With today’s connectivity, many models can connect wirelessly to a smartphone, where apps are available to provide a range of treatments that can be used at the user’s discretion.
How do I begin my journey to treatment for tinnitus? Call Levine Hearing for a free screening to determine if treatment options are available to you.