Get Help with Tinnitus
Want to get your sanity back? For some people, tinnitus is like hearing the smoke detector going off in the next room, 24/7. It can drive even the calmest person crazy, much less keep you from getting a good night’s sleep.
Tinnitus is a condition in which you hear a sound that others can’t hear and is often not truly present. Most people describe their tinnitus as a ringing in the ears, though others describe it as a pulsing noise, white noise, or a “whooshing” sound. Tinnitus is very common and affects about 15 percent of people, with more than half of them reporting that it lasts for a year or more.
For most people, tinnitus is a fleeting concern–symptoms may present briefly but will tend to disappear after a couple of minutes. But for millions of people, tinnitus doesn’t go away on its own–the buzzing or ringing becomes a chronic condition. And that’s when tinnitus can become a significant disruption to the quality of your life.
If your tinnitus doesn’t go away, you should get your hearing tested. Ninety percent of people with chronic tinnitus also have hearing loss and get marked improvement when the underlying hearing loss is addressed.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus has a variety of causes including exposure to loud noise, genetics, damage to your hearing, medication, or even earwax. Here is a partial list of causes:
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
A significant percentage of hearing loss is caused by damage to the tiny hairs in your inner ear. These hairs, called stereocilia, are responsible for detecting the movement of fluid in the inner ear and transmitting those signals to the brain, where the signals are translated into sound. When the stereocilia become damaged, the information they transmit can become corrupted, leading your brain to think it hears sounds that aren’t actually present.
Studies have shown that tinnitus can often be caused by head and neck injuries. Traumatic head injuries, especially, have been strongly linked to chronic tinnitus. The causal relationship between these injuries and tinnitus isn’t well established–but this type of tinnitus tends to present only in one ear or the other.
Earwax buildup can also cause tinnitus. This buildup causes alterations to the air pressure in the inner ear. This change in air pressure confuses the stereocilia, which then presents as tinnitus.
Meniere’s disease is a relatively uncommon condition affecting the inner ear. Meniere’s can result in balance issues and hearing loss, and tinnitus is usually one of the early signs of the disorder.
If you started a new medication right before your symptoms started, check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if tinnitus is a known side effect. Many common medications like Aspirin have been associated with tinnitus.
Other Potential Causes
There are several other uncommon causes of tinnitus, ranging from dysfunction of the eustachian tube to stress on the jawbone due to temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).
In addition, some medical conditions have also been associated with tinnitus, including high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines, thyroid issues, and even some autoimmune disorders.
How Do I Reduce the Ringing in My Ears?
There are three main ways to improve the symptoms of tinnitus: addressing underlying causes, masking the noise, or behavioral therapies.
Reducing the Symptoms of Tinnitus
There are many ways to reduce your symptoms of tinnitus, including
When your tinnitus presents in association with age-related hearing loss, hearing aids can be an effective way to address both conditions at once. Many hearing aids also have additional features to help manage tinnitus. Ask to demo hearing aids to see if they would help.
In some cases, tinnitus may be caused by underlying conditions in the body. Resolving these conditions will often help alleviate tinnitus symptoms. For example, if you have high blood pressure that is contributing to tinnitus symptoms, a low-sodium diet and exercise can help. We may refer you to an ENT or other physician if we feel you need assistance beyond our scope of practice.
There are some medications that are known to cause tinnitus. Replacing these medications may help alleviate the buzzing or ringing that you’re hearing. You should always talk to your physician before you stop taking any medication.
Because earwax buildup can cause tinnitus symptoms, your hearing aid specialist will examine your ears to make sure there’s no such buildup. When a buildup of earwax is found, your hearing aid specialist will remove the hardened or excess material.
Do Hearing Aids Help with Tinnitus?
Yes. In fact, a 2007 survey of hearing aid professionals found that nearly 60% of tinnitus clients experienced some tinnitus reduction when wearing hearing aids, while nearly 25% found significant relief. Tinnitus is also often associated with hearing loss, so if you have ringing in your ears you should schedule a test with us to see if hearing aids would help.
What Are Masking Devices, and Do They Work?
When symptoms cannot be reduced, there are also masking devices you can try.
Masking devices are similar to hearing aids, except instead of amplifying sounds, they transmit noise. You can think of them as portable white-noise devices perfectly shaped for your ears. Roughly the size of hearing aids, masking devices also look quite similar to hearing aids. The most sophisticated masking devices also include noise-canceling technology for increased effectiveness.
Should You Try Behavioral Therapy?
Therapy and counseling can also help you improve your tinnitus. The goal of these methods is to help you develop coping mechanisms so that you can become accustomed to tinnitus and learn to tune out the sound.
This can be a challenging experience, but both Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) have been shown to be quite successful with tinnitus. TRT will use a masking device in combination with special counseling; the goal of this method is to help you ignore your tinnitus symptoms. CBT functions on a similar premise but is more focused on building up coping methods.
Are There New and Experimental Options?
Researchers have made promising strides in developing experimental treatments for tinnitus. Some of these options include special medications, gene therapies, or devices.
While experimental treatments have shown promise in laboratory settings, none have currently expanded to human trials. Cutting-edge gene therapies may have the capability to cure tinnitus one day–but such remedies are likely years away.