What is Tinnitus?
Simply put, Tinnitus is hearing sounds that aren’t generated outside of the body and is almost never heard by others.
Tinnitus isn’t a disease but is instead a symptom of an underlying health problem. In fact, there are around 200 different health disorders that can cause Tinnitus. In most cases, it’s not a sign of a serious illness or condition.
However, it’s best to see your hearing health practitioner or your family physician to determine if there are any underlying health issues that may cause Tinnitus.
What kinds of sounds do you hear?
Usually, Tinnitus is described as a ringing in the ears, which is a direct link to the word’s roots – it comes from the Latin ‘tinnire,’ meaning to ring like a bell or to tinkle. High-pitched steady ringing is also the most common form of Tinnitus.
The sounds of Tinnitus can be just about anything including ringing, buzzing, hissing, humming, whooshing.
Although it’s rare, Tinnitus can also manifest itself as fragments of a song. This is known as ‘musical hallucinations’ or ‘auditory imagery.’
There are other rare cases patients hear rhythmic noises that pulsate along with the beat of your heart. This type of Tinnitus is known as ‘pulsatile Tinnitus.’
What causes Tinnitus?
As mentioned previously, the underlying causes of Tinnitus are quite varied, but the most common reason for Tinnitus is damage to the tiny sensory hair cells of the cochlea in the inner ear.
Research suggests that damage to the inner ear, along with the resulting lack of actual sound being carried to the brain’s hearing centre, causes the brain to try fill in the gaps. The brain then interprets what isn’t externally audible.
Sensorineural Hearing loss is commonly associated with Tinnitus.
Two of the common causes of sensorineural hearing loss are:
- Age-related hearing loss – also known as presbycusis
- Noise-Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) – sustained or continuous exposure to loud sounds, including in the workplace or at a concert.
Other causes of Tinnitus may include:
- Obstructions in the middle ear
- Head and neck trauma
- Ear infections
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Ménière’s disease
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- Sinus pressure and barometric trauma
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Ototoxic Drugs – including certain antibiotics and cancer medications, diuretics
One way to try and prevent Tinnitus is to limit your exposure to loud noises.
Sounds above 85 decibels are considered loud and any continuous exposure could lead to hearing loss and possibly Tinnitus. To give you an idea of how loud that is, a snow blower is about 85 dB, while a motorcycle sits at about 100 dB and a music concert is about 110 dB.
4 ways to prevent Tinnitus
- Step away from any loud sounds.
- Use hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs. You can speak to a Hearing Solutions Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist about custom earplugs.
- Turn down the volume on your electronic devices like your smartphone, MP3 player, etc.
- Consider downloading an app that measures noise levels and sets a limit on how loud you can listen to audio and video content on your devices.
Tinnitus Treatment and Management Solutions
Individuals with tinnitus are often told, “there is nothing you can do.” This is unfortunate, unhelpful and untrue. While treating tinnitus is indeed challenging, understanding it is the first step.
Consult with a professional at Hearing Solutions to get further insight into the nature of your tinnitus symptoms and learn about a variety of treatment options customised to you and your lifestyle.
Before treating Tinnitus
Before your hearing care provider can treat your Tinnitus, they’ll want you to complete a hearing assessment to find out what may be causing it in the first place. Your Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist will also want to know if you have any level of hearing loss.
It’s a fact that most people with Tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss.
Your hearing healthcare practitioner will want to know things like…
- How long have you been experiencing Tinnitus symptoms?
- Is it constant?
- How loud or severe is it?
- Is it worse at certain times of the day or during certain activities?
- What kind of sound is it?
- How irritating is it and does it affect your day to day activities?
- Does the sound change?
Answers to questions like these will help your Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist better evaluate your condition. They will also ask you about your medical history and about any medications you may be taking, as these can contribute to your Tinnitus symptoms.
If your hearing care professional can pinpoint a specific cause attributed to an external activity or medication, treatment may consist of eliminating or reducing that activity or treating any underlying medical conditions first as means of managing your Tinnitus.
Your Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Specialist may need to refer you to an ENT (Ear, Nose and Throat) Specialist or your family doctor for further assessment.
How to manage Tinnitus treatment?
Speak with your Audiologist or Hearing Instrument Practitioner about your treatment options.
If you have Tinnitus and are diagnosed with hearing loss, hearing aids can help you manage annoying symptoms.
Many hearing aid models are equipped with Tinnitus therapy features that include a built-in masker, producing sounds that suppress symptoms.
Tinnitus masking devices are worn in the ear like hearing aids. They produce low-level white noise that suppresses symptoms by literally distracting the brain from the sounds of Tinnitus, much like hearing aids do with built-in masking features.
White noise machines
These machines produce a variety of sounds and can be used at night to help minimise the sounds of Tinnitus. When it’s most quiet, Tinnitus symptoms can feel more intense. Some machines come with pillow speakers to help you sleep.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy helps you identify and change any negative thinking towards Tinnitus, which can influence your perception of your symptoms and its effects on your life. Stress and anxiety often intensify Tinnitus symptoms.
According to the Canadian Academy of Audiology, “CBT has been shown to be very effective in reducing tinnitus distress.”
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a Tinnitus management protocol that combines sound therapy with educational counselling. The goal of a TRT program is to minimise your awareness of your Tinnitus symptoms in the hopes that you’ll retrain the neural networks of your brain that are responsible for Tinnitus detection.
TRT is recognised and covered by Veterans Affairs Canada (VAC).
Progressive Tinnitus Management (PTM)
PTM is dubbed a ‘stepped care’ approach. Progressive Tinnitus Management recognises that each person won’t need the same level of care to manage their Tinnitus and that some patients may need more than just a hearing evaluation and/or hearing aids.
Some patients may need ‘Skills Education,’ which is provided by a hearing care professional and a psychologist who uses CBT as a foundation for coping strategies.
Hearing Solutions can help you manage your Tinnitus
Hearing Solutions’ Audiology professionals can help by providing free hearing tests to assess and help diagnose your Tinnitus. They’ll also provide their expert advice on how you can manage your Tinnitus.