The sound of tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition where you literally hear noises in your head without having any psychiatric conditions.  It can be heard in any area of your head, or in one or even both ears. You are the only one that can hear it as it is not created by an external source and it is commonly described as “ringing in the ears”. The sounds can vary from person to person. Some people hear humming or buzzing noises and others a sound that beats in time with their own pulse. This can cause great distress and even hearing impairment in sufferers.

Tinnitus affects roughly one in every five people. According to The American Tinnitus Association there are 45 million people in America alone struggling with this. Almost all of us will experience temporary tinnitus at some stage of our lives. This could be for a few hours after a loud concert and it will be gone by the next morning. But for others, it becomes persistent and can even increase and lead to eventual hearing loss.

What causes tinnitus?

There are a few different things that cause and contribute to tinnitus. The most common cause to blame is exposure to noise.

  1. Noise exposure

Working in a very noisy surrounding with no proper ear protection over a long time does not only increase your risk of developing tinnitus, but it can also bring on hearing impairment in varying degrees up to total hearing loss where you will need an audiologist to fit and assist you with hearing aids.

Exposure to loud music at concerts as well as the extensive use of loud personal devices like earphones can put you in the danger zone too.  Ageing rock band members typically suffers from this after years of constant loud performances. Luckily, these days any reputable audiologist will stock a selection of stylish and suitable ear protection that can help to protect musicians and concertgoers alike. “I highly recommended that people wear ear protection as a preventative measure”, says Dr Melissa Alexander who is an expert in helping musicians from all over the world to manage their tinnitus.

  1. Underlying problems

The other causes can be contributed to underlying problems such as using certain drugs, stress, head injuries, compacted ear wax, middle ear infection and age.   With ageing, age-related hearing loss can bring with it the onset of tinnitus. An ear or head injury from impact or a severe infection or a circulatory system disorder can also develop into ringing in the ears. It is very important to work closely together with your doctor and audiologist to get to the bottom of the problem before possible long term hearing loss sets in.

Consequences of tinnitus

Many sufferers experience severe side effects. Some experience stress, fatigue, emotional problems and depression as a direct result of not being able to cope with their condition.  The onset of stress can induce tinnitus and the onset of tinnitus can increase stress levels even more, forming a vicious circle.

Audiologists that have experience with tinnitus patients will be able to assist and offer stress-coping strategies and relaxation techniques.

Treating your tinnitus

It is very important to work with your doctor and audiologist team. If your condition is caused by an allergy or infection, medication will clear it up. Ear irrigation can be used to rinse build-up of wax.

Unfortunately not all causes can be remedied and if no underlying cause can be found, the only scientifically proven treatment is positive coping strategies.

Depending on the results of your hearing evaluation, you may get a recommendation for one of the following types of tinnitus treatments.

  • If you have hearing loss in conjunction with tinnitus, your hearing aids can help to make your symptoms better. Some advanced hearing aids even have special tinnitus therapy features.
  • Devices that mask the ringing noise, called suppression devices are another popular option for sufferers.  This device is worn in the ear like a normal hearing aid. Your audiologist will use pitch and loudness matching tests to set the signal at a level that will give you relief.
  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy uses cognitive therapy in combination with a masking device to help you learn to disregard the background ringing noise in your ears.
  • You can also use a free-standing white noise generating machine which is sometimes all a person needs to blank out the noise.

Tinnitus and hearing loss

Many people who suffer from tinnitus may also suffer from hearing loss. Tinnitus is more common among people who suffer from hearing loss. It is possible though to suffer from major hearing loss without contracting tinnitus at all.  If you experience both tinnitus and hearing loss and your audiologist introduce a hearing aid, you will find that hearing aids may both improve your hearing and the symptoms of tinnitus.