Tinnitus Information & Guide

Tinnitus Symptoms

The symptoms of tinnitus include a noise being heard in your ear when no external source is present. Some of these noises can be:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Whistling
  • Hissing
  • Humming
  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Heartbeat

The volume of the noise can fluctuate, and the sounds are most often heard at night or when it is quiet. Tinnitus may be present all the time, or it may come and go throughout your life.

Tinnitus Causes

There are many causes including excessive earwax, damage to inner hair cells, age-related hearing loss, chronic health conditions, or an ear infection.

Tinnitus isn’t a disease; it is a symptom of an underlying health condition. To determine what the underlying cause of your tinnitus is you may undergo several tests, including a physical exam, hearing and nerve tests or imaging such as an MRI or a CT scan. Be sure to inform the clinician about any medications you are taking as tinnitus could be a side effect of some drugs.

It is important to know that in many cases the cause of tinnitus may never be found.

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Tinnitus Treatment

If you think you have tinnitus, the first step is to visit your doctor to find out if it is caused by something that is medically treatable. Also, since tinnitus is often caused by hearing loss, you should have your hearing tested by a hearing care professional. In many cases, a medical cause of tinnitus cannot be identified, so you may then need to take steps to treat the tinnitus itself. Treatment can help by changing your reaction to the noises and making you less aware of them. You will gradually learn to stop paying attention to your tinnitus, in the same way you ignore other everyday noises such as the hum of the refrigerator or traffic outside your window. There are several options available to treat and help people cope with tinnitus.

Tinnitus Masking

Tinnitus becomes more noticeable in quiet environments. Because of this, tinnitus sufferers may choose to avoid complete silence wherever possible. Many devices are available that can partially “mask” the sound of the tinnitus and make it less noticeable. The volume of the masking sound should be set to a level just below the volume of the tinnitus, so that both the masking sound and the tinnitus are audible. When both the tinnitus and masking noise are audible, there is less contrast between the two sounds, and the brain learns to ignore both the masking noise and the tinnitus. Partial tinnitus masking is recommended in Tinnitus Retraining Therapy/Auditory Habituation Therapy. Some commonly used masking devices include:

 

  • Wearable Noise Generator – a device similar to a hearing aid that is worn daily and produces constant white noise (“sshh”) at a comfortable level. The device is worn for as many hours as possible, especially in quieter environments. These can also be combined with hearing aids.
  • Natural Sound Generator – a CD player-like device that can produce several specially selected sounds aimed at helping tinnitus. Sounds may include waves, waterfalls, classical music, or white noise, depending on your preferences. These are ideal for use at home in quiet environments such as the bedroom, where tinnitus may interfere with sleep and relaxation.
  • Environmental Sounds – everyday devices that produce low-level noise, such as an electric fan or a static radio station. These are ideal for use at home in quiet environments such as the bedroom, where tinnitus may interfere with sleep and relaxation.

Avoid Possible Triggers

High levels of nicotine, salt, and caffeine can often make tinnitus worse, and should be taken only in moderation. High noise levels are known to aggravate tinnitus and can cause hearing loss, so if you work in a noisy environment or have noisy recreational activities, wear appropriate hearing protection. Moderate everyday noises are not usually a problem for most people. If you are interested in learning more about hearing protection options for your lifestyle and noise levels, speak with a hearing care professional.

Hearing Aids

Most people with tinnitus also have hearing loss and may benefit from wearing hearing aids. Not only do hearing aids make listening easier, but they also amplify background sounds, which draws your attention away from the tinnitus.

Stress Management

Many people with tinnitus report that it gets worse when they are tired or stressed. This is because your stress levels change the way you react to your tinnitus. When you feel content and happy, you forget about your tinnitus; when you are anxious and stressed, your tinnitus becomes more difficult to ignore. Stress management, along with other treatment techniques outlined above, can help change your attitude toward the tinnitus signal. Many strategies aimed at reducing stress are available, such as deep breathing, biofeedback, yoga, massage, or visiting a psychologist who specializes in stress management and/or mood disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can others hear my tinnitus?

Most of the time, only the people who have tinnitus can hear the noise; this is called subjective tinnitus and it is most common. However, in some cases, the audiologist hears the noise if they put a stethoscope up to the ear; this is called objective tinnitus.

What should I do if I’m affected by tinnitus?

If you think you have tinnitus, the first step is to visit your doctor to find out if it is caused by something that is medically treatable. If you are cleared by your doctor, your next step may include contacting our clinic so you can meet with one of our hearing care professionals.

How long does tinnitus last?

Tinnitus may briefly occur then disappear, remain for a few months, or it may last a lifetime.

Is tinnitus harmful?

Tinnitus is not harmful from a medical perspective, but it may increase levels of stress.

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