Tinnitus: Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

If you have ever heard a ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring, or whooshing noise in your ears or head, which is not coming from an external sound, you may have what is known as tinnitus – and you are not alone.

Many people experience this occasionally for a few minutes and then it goes away. But for about 50 million Americans the noise is constant and does not go away. This is considered chronic tinnitus.

Identify Tinnitus Causes

Chronic tinnitus can become debilitating if you do not seek help. It is strongly advised that you see your Primary Care Provider (PCP) an Audiologist or an Ear Nose & Throat (ENT) doctor to determine if you have a medical reason for the tinnitus or if it is due to hearing loss. Research shows that 80% of people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. An audiologist can identify and diagnose hearing loss and explain the workings of the auditory process. This information and understanding of the tinnitus can alone demystify the sound and in most cases break the cycle of emotional annoyance resulting in no need for treatment.

However, in some cases medical concerns can be the cause of tinnitus. It is therefore recommended that a PCP or ENT and an audiologist be consulted to rule out treatable medical issue such as ear wax, ear infection, ear disease, ototoxic medication, sudden hearing loss, head trauma, TMJ, allergies, sinus conditions, tumor, and high blood pressure. Once medical conditions are addressed or ruled out then tinnitus treatment may be initiated.

Tinnitus Treatments

It is important to note that for those who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and insomnia triggered by the tinnitus there is help. In fact, if you see a healthcare professional who tells you nothing can be done- do not listen, nothing can be further from the truth. Find a different provider, preferably one who is experienced in understanding and treating tinnitus. This is also the advice from the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) which is an organization dedicated to education and research in tinnitus. Their website ATA.org has valuable information in helping individuals understand and cope with tinnitus.

Tinnitus treatments may include:

  • Sound therapy via white noise machines, ear level sound generators, sleep phones, sound pillows, and sound phone apps.
  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Therapy that teaches coping strategies and habituation to tinnitus.
  • Sound enrichment via amplification with hearing aids if hearing loss is present.
  • Stress reduction through music, meditation, exercise, ear massage, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, and guided imagery.
  • Personal hearing protection in loud noise to prevent hearing damage.
  • Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). Counseling therapy provided by a psychologist for individuals highly distressed by tinnitus.

The exact pathophysiology of tinnitus is still unknown. Theories suggest that missing or damaged hair cells in the inner ear from hearing loss, send aberrant signals to the auditory nervous system and the brain mistakenly interprets the signal as sound (tinnitus). The severity of the tinnitus may be influenced by negative counseling, stress at work or at home, fear of not knowing what is going on and events in one’s own life.

It is vital to seek immediate care if you are experiencing sudden hearing loss and vertigo as well as pain or have sustained a head or neck trauma. But anyone that experiences tinnitus that is pulsatile, asymmetric, or does not go away should consult an audiologist and ENT.

Tinnitus Prevention

Some tinnitus may be prevented. Protecting your hearing from loud noise or music by using personal and appropriate hearing protection can prevent hearing damage that may lead to tinnitus. Avoiding loud environments and turning the volume down on music can prevent damage to the delicate structures in the inner ear. When operating loud equipment such as drills, hammers or power saws remember to wear hearing protection. Hobbies such as hunting, target shooting, and race cars are extremely loud and require hearing protection. Adopting a heart healthy diet as well as exercise and stress reduction is highly recommended to maintain and improve general health as well as hearing health. Avoiding medications that are toxic to the ear is also recommended. The combination of ototoxic medication and loud noise exposure should be avoided to prevent negative synergistic effects.

Seek Treatment for Tinnitus & Hearing Issues Today

Tinnitus is very rarely caused by a life threatening medical issue. If your tinnitus continues for more than a week, make an appointment at Michigan Avenue Hearing Health in downtown Chicago to see your doctor to begin the process of understanding and managing your tinnitus.

Authored by: Janaan Moore, Au.D., Doctor of Audiology

 

Resources:
Douglas Beck, AuD., Hearing Journal, June 2011, Hearing Aid Amplification and Tinnitus: 2011 Overview
Jason Leyendecker, Au.D., Adjunct Faculty, A.T. Still University, Tinnitus Course 733, 2018-2019
Robert Sweetow, PHD, and Anne Mette Kragh Jeppesen, MA, Hearing Review, July 2012, A New Integrated Pogram for Tinnitus Patient Management: Widex Zen Therapy

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