What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often described as a ringing sound in the ears or head. It can take on many forms such as a whistling, humming, buzzing, or pulsing and can be present occasionally or constantly throughout the day and night. Most of the time it is subjective which means only the person experiencing tinnitus can hear it. In such cases, the ringing is not an actual sound in the ear but a misfiring of the nerve connecting the ear to the brain. Tinnitus is commonly associated with hearing loss but can affect normal hearing individuals as well.

Tinnitus is very common and usually presents no serious medical concerns!!

  • In some cases the tinnitus sounds/feels like a pulsing or only presents in one ear, in which case it is important to consult with a doctor. Pulsatile or unilateral (one-sided) tinnitus are usually harmless but there are certain rare conditions which can cause these symptoms and may require medical treatment.

The word tinnitus is of Latin origin, meaning “to ring or tinkle.” Tinnitus has two different pronunciations, both of which are commonly used:

  •  ti-NIGHT-us
  • TINN-a-tus

There is no cure, but there is help. Together we can develop a personalized treatment plan to manage your tinnitus.

What causes tinnitus?

Sometimes tinnitus has no discernible cause, but there are many known causes of tinnitus including:

  • Hearing loss
  • Reaction/side effect to certain medications
  • Exposure to loud sounds
  • Head and/or neck injuries
  • Untreated medical conditions
  • Natural process of aging
  • Middle ear disease
  • Wax obstructing ear canal

Even though tinnitus typically presents no medical concerns it can cause annoyance, frustration, and even anxiety. In such cases, tinnitus can have a negative impact on quality of life and may require help from a professional. Changes in your lifestyle or exploring treatment options can help make tinnitus more manageable.

What treatment options are available to me?

Habituation: Many individuals go through a natural habituation process after experiencing tinnitus for the first time. Over the course of a few weeks or a few months, many individuals with tinnitus find that their initial feelings of fear, stress, annoyance, and frustration subside as their brain gradually learns to “tune out” the sounds of tinnitus. While tinnitus may remain following habituation, the brain gets to a point where it is no longer fixated on the new sound. This allows the individual to focus on their day-to-day life again and go for long periods of time without noticing their tinnitus.

Sound therapy: Many people find certain soft background sounds effective in keeping the auditory system occupied and not focused solely on the tinnitus.

Sound therapy comes in various forms:

  • Hearing aids with tinnitus sound therapy options
  • White noise
  • Chimes
  •  Nature sounds
  • Sound generators and apps on mobile phones
  • Relaxation / listening exercises
  •  Music
  • White noise machines
  •  Sound pillows

A healthy diet, exercise, and lifestyle: Stress, caffeine, alcohol, and high salt diets can heighten awareness of tinnitus. Here are some practices which can help reduce tinnitus awareness.

  • Relaxation and mindfulness exercises
  • Good sleep hygiene
  •  Reduce stress in your life as much as possible
  • Ask your doctor if a medication you are taking lists tinnitus as a potential side effect

Protecting your ears!

  • Use hearing protection when around loud sounds such as:
    • Lawn mower, power tools, concerts, firearms, motorsports, etc.
  • If possible, avoid loud concerts and sporting events which can initiate or aggravate tinnitus
    •  Alternatively, invest musician’s earplugs which can reduce the effects of noise while preserving the sound quality of music

There are questionnaires that we administer to help measure the burden of tinnitus on your day to day life. These would be completed by you and one of our audiologists and can help us build a treatment plan personalized to your needs. Together we can reduce the effects of tinnitus so you get back to life as usual without the anxiety and distraction.