Tinnitus is a very common symptom suffered to some extent by 70-85% of people with hearing impairment. For most, it’s more of an irritant than a major problem, but for some, tinnitus has major influence on their well-being and causes sleeping problems, anxiety and stress. Tinnitus can be perceived as many different sounds, such as humming, ringing, or buzzing, and it can be constant or periodic and vary in loudness.
There can be many causes of tinnitus, but often the reason is unknown. Frequently it is noise induced, is related to medical disorders such as ear infections or Meniere’s disease, or may be caused by use of certain drugs. Regardless of the cause, there is a very high correlation between the presence of hearing loss and tinnitus. This correlation is probably related to the well-established principle that a peripheral disorder (such as a hearing loss) produces an increase in brain activity. In other words, the brain tries to compensate for the lack of stimulation from the inner ear.
Often, negative emotion is attached to the tinnitus, and increased attention is paid to it – making it difficult for the patient to cope. Tinnitus is often more difficult to deal with when there is uncertainty or fear involved.
Once medical evaluation has ruled out a treatable or serious disorder, education and reassurance can be extremely valuable and may be sufficient for some people. For others, there are devices and training programs that can help reduce the annoyance of tinnitus.
Do you hear a ringing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound in your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Does the sound bother you a lot? If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may have (ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-i-tus) and you should see a hearing professional.
Roughly 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus, a symptom associated with many forms of hearing problems. (It can also be a symptom of other health problems.) Tinnitus is typically caused by:
Hearing Loss – Most people who have tinnitus also have some kind of 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.
Medication – More than 200 medicines, including aspirin, can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and you take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine could be the cause.
Recent studies show that 10% to 15% of the US population, or nearly 30 million people, experience chronic or persistent tinnitus. Tinnitus has been shown to have a direct impact on a person’s emotional well-being, hearing , and ability to sleep and to concentrate, in turn influencing basic life functions such as socialization and relaxation.
Only a small number of people contact their physicians or hearing care professionals for help with their tinnitus, perhaps due to the widespread belief that tinnitus is incurable or untreatable. Yet there are several methods for treating tinnitus that can alleviate the impact it has on the patient’s quality of life.
A large-scale study by the Better Hearing Institute found that the highest rating of treatment effectiveness was achieved by hearing aids (34%) and music (30%), followed by relaxation techniques (10%). Focusing on substantial to complete relief from tinnitus (greater than or equal to 80% of symptoms), hearing aids were rated the highest (27%) followed by music (20%). Approximately 10% of subjects experienced substantial relief of their tinnitus through prescription medication, relaxation techniques, counseling, or a non-wearable sound generator. Herbs or dietary supplements were not shown to be effective in this study.
Information from Hearing Review, November 2011
We carry out a complete hearing assessment including Puretone Audiometry, Tympanometry, Acoustic Reflexes, Otoacoustic Emissions and Speech Discrimination. Specifically for tinnitus assessment we conduct an interview using the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI) to grade the severity of the patient’s tinnitus. Based on your evaluation we will implement the prescribed treatment plan. Management may include the use of hearing aid amplification, sound therapy and /or behavioral modification therapy.
Through our vast experience, we have developed a variety of approaches that provide relief for the majority of our patients. Following is the process for evaluation and treatment.
Because tinnitus can be associated with ear and other anatomical disease, it is imperative that we determine what the underlying causes of your problem are. In most cases tinnitus is caused by an underlying hearing loss. Sometimes however it can be caused by other problems that are not appropriate for treatment in the audiology setting. If we find that your case is not suitable for treatment we would refer you to an ENT Specialist to rule out any health-related conditions that could be the cause of your tinnitus or could be treated through medical and/or surgical intervention.
There are many options for treatment with tinnitus dependent on the severity and the underlying cause. In quite a lot of cases correction of a hearing loss with a well fitted hearing aid system will eliminate the tinnitus symptoms. In the cases where this isn’t enough we also prescribe sound therapy. Many modern hearing aid devices are combination devices giving amplification and sound therapy. Different types of noises or chime-like sounds can be used with or without amplification to offer relief from tinnitus. Sound therapy will most often be accompanied by education, counseling, and stress reduction. It may also include professionals from other disciplines (i.e., psychology, dentistry, neurology, etc). This new approach is proving to be very successful and is being used more frequently by the hearing professionals in our office
In cases where there is no hearing loss is or it is not severe enough for treatment, we would prescribe sound therapy devices. Sound therapy has proven to be an effective management tool for many people who suffer from tinnitus that isn’t associated with underlying hearing loss.