Understanding Tinnitus

Understanding Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of a sound in your ear(s) not related to an external source within your environment. Many people are surprised that tinnitus is quite common. According to the American Tinnitus Association it affects nearly 50 million Americans. The frequency, intensity and duration of tinnitus vary from person to person.

For some, tinnitus is persistent and for others it is intermittent. The sound perceived varies as well. The most common descriptors are ringing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, cicadas and/or night sounds. Some people hear a singular sound while others experience multiple sounds. For some, tinnitus is only noticeable in quiet situations or when trying to sleep at night. For others, tinnitus persists in the presence of background noise, sometimes interfering with daily life. The location of tinnitus may sound like it’s in the ear(s) and/or somewhere in the head.

Tinnitus is most commonly subjective (a noise perceived by the patient alone) while objective tinnitus (a noise perceived by the patient as well as by another listener) is incredibly rare.

Tinnitus is a symptom much like a headache, pain, temperature, hearing loss or vertigo. With tinnitus, the reported distress is usually subjective and difficult to record and appreciate by others.

Where does tinnitus originate?

The production of tinnitus may originate in one or more locations, called site of lesion. The cause of tinnitus is either singular or multiple. A peripheral (auditory nerve or cochlea) site of lesion includes dysfunction established within the auditory system that extends up to but not involving the brainstem. A central site of lesion refers to involvement of the central auditory pathways, beginning at the brainstem and involving other portions of the central nervous system.

Tinnitus is neurotologic, which means it pertains to the elements of the ear as they related to the brain and the nervous system. For some, tinnitus may occur with a hearing loss, vertigo or pressure symptoms in the ear or it may occur alone.

Tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease, just like pain in your arm or leg is a symptom and not a disease.

Because the function of the auditory (hearing) nerve is to carry sound, when it is irritated from any cause it produces head noise, which we call tinnitus. This phenomenon is similar to the sensation nerves elsewhere. If you pinch your skin, it hurts because the nerves stimulated carry pain sensation.

What causes tinnitus?

Hearing loss: Most people who have tinnitus also have hearing loss.

Loud noise: Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Continued exposure can make the tinnitus and hearing loss become worse.

Medicine: There are over 200 medicines, including aspirin, which can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and you take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine could be the cause.

Other potential causes: Allergies, tumors, problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaws, and neck can cause tinnitus.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

Call our office to schedule an appointment to discuss your tinnitus. Because tinnitus is often a symptom of hearing loss, we will test your hearing and discuss your unique history. At Heartland Hearing, you can rest assured that if we discover a medical concern regarding your tinnitus, whether during your initial consultation or at some point during your continuing follow up care, we will refer you to the appropriate ENT physician.

What are treatment options for tinnitus?

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, depending on your specific situation, we have beneficial recommendations to help provide you partial and/or complete relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find what works for you.

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

Maskers: Many types of devices, such as fans, radios and sound generators are useful tinnitus maskers that help tinnitus sufferers fall asleep or get back to sleep.

Counseling: If you have tinnitus you 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?

You are in control of your responses to tinnitus. Place less importance and priority on the tinnitus. Focus on sounds that help "trick your brain" to help you forget about your tinnitus. Many people find listening to music or having the TV on in the background helpful to relax. Radios, fans, TV and other sound generators can also help to mask the sound. Many people like to listen to recorded nature sounds, like ocean waves or rainfall.

Avoid smoking, alcohol and loud noise, which can worsen your tinnitus. If you farm, hunt, use power tools, or if you are regularly exposed to loud noise at home or work, wear earplugs or special earmuffs to protect your hearing and keep your tinnitus from getting worse.