If you’ve heard sounds like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing, there’s a chance that you might have tinnitus. The noises can be loud or soft, high or low pitched, and can affect one or both ears. Experts estimate that over 20 million Americans are plagued by tinnitus at any given time, and unfortunately, many of these individuals are not aware that relief is possible.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus (pronounced tin-NY-tus or TIN-utus) is not a disease but rather a symptom that something is not functioning correctly. Usually it’s an indication that something is wrong in either the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and/or the parts of the brain that process sound.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is fairly elusive, as experts cannot pinpoint a specific cause. It’s often compared to chronic pain syndrome, where the body believes it is still hurting long after the injury has healed. One idea is that tinnitus is the result of the brain’s neural circuits trying to adapt to the loss of sensory hair cells by turning up the sensitivity to sound, which would explain why some people with tinnitus are overly sensitive to loud noise.
Something as common as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus, or it can be the result of a number of health conditions, such as:
- Noise induced hearing loss (NIHL)
- Ear and sinus infections
- Medication side-effects
- Neck or jaw issues
- Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
- Meniere’s disease
- Brain tumors
- Hormonal changes in women
- Thyroid abnormalities
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Tinnitus does not have a cure yet, but there are treatments available that help many people cope with the condition. A combination of the treatments below may be recommended depending on the severity of your tinnitus and how your day to day life is affected by it.
- Hearing aids often are helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. They allow the person to focus on hearing other sounds rather than their tinnitus.
- Counseling helps you learn how to live with your tinnitus by providing you with tools and education.
- Wearable sound generators/maskers are small electronic devices that look like hearing aids and present pleasant sounds to the patient. Tabletop sound generators are used as an aid for relaxation or sleep. They can play sounds that are relaxing to you such as waves, rain, or white noise.
- Acoustic neural stimulation is a relatively new technique for people whose tinnitus is very annoying. It uses a palm-sized device with headphones to deliver a signal embedded in music. This treatment helps to stimulate changes in the neural circuits in the brain, which eventually desensitize you to the tinnitus sounds.
- Cochlear implants are sometimes used for people who have tinnitus along with severe hearing loss. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged part of the inner ear and sends electrical signals that directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The device brings in outside sounds that help mask tinnitus and stimulate change in the neural circuits.
- Antidepressants and antianxiety drugs might be prescribed by your doctor to improve your mood and help you sleep. Other medications may be available at drugstores and on the internet as an alternative remedy for tinnitus, but nothing has been proven to be effective in clinical trials.
What Can I Do To Help Myself?
What helps one individual deal with their tinnitus might not work for another, so think about ways that can help you specifically. Some people listen to music or recorded sounds to help take their mind off of their tinnitus and give them something to focus on.
Tinnitus can be exacerbated by smoking, alcohol, or loud noises, so be sure to use ear protection if you’re around loud noise on a regular basis. If you have a difficult time hearing over your tinnitus, it may be helpful to ask friends and family members to face you when they talk with you, allowing you to hear them better and also see their facial expressions. Request that individuals speak loud and clearly so that you can understand them better.
Each person experiences tinnitus differently, and ultimately a comprehensive evaluation is necessary for effective treatment. At Advanced Audiology Institute, we’re experienced in providing individualized solutions on a case-by-case basis, so contact us today for the much needed relief you’ve been waiting for!