An Overview of Tinnitus
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is defined as perceiving sound in one or both ears or in your head when there is no external sound present. It is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” but some people hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant—with single or multiple tones. Volume level can range from subtle to shattering.
Many people experience tinnitus louder in the early morning or late at night when it is quiet. It is normal to hear some noises in your ears. In fact, 50 million Americans say they have tinnitus. But, when tinnitus becomes annoying or stressful, it’s time to do something about it.
Causes of Tinnitus
The exact cause of tinnitus is unknown. It’s often associated with hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, ear-damaging drugs, TMJ (jaw) problems, Meniere’s Disease, head injuries, excessive wax build-up, and high blood pressure.
A new theory about the cause of tinnitus involves the auditory cortex of the brain. This area is responsible for perceiving sound. Some scientists believe that the cause of tinnitus may be a reorganization of the auditory cortex in response to noise exposure.
Tinnitus Treatment and Management
There is no cure for tinnitus. However, in many cases, tinnitus can be effectively managed by altering your reaction to it.
There are, however, several ways to get relief from tinnitus and improve your quality of life.
Tinnitus Coping Strategies
Make some noise: silence is not golden. Listening to classical music can help you relax, and it masks tinnitus. A sound-scape CD or noise generator with sounds of the ocean or rain, for example, is a helpful tool in masking tinnitus. Even a fan can work.
Relax! Stress and tension can increase the intensity of tinnitus. Even a minute or two of deep breathing or meditation can be very helpful.
Monitor your environments and diet. Loud noises can make tinnitus worse, so wear ear plugs when you need to. Caffeine and alcohol may worsen tinnitus temporarily. Some people report that artificial sweeteners or high salt diets also affect their tinnitus.
Some medications can cause or worsen tinnitus. Check the side effects of any medications you take and discuss them with your doctor.
Hearing Devices with fractal technology
The Widex Mind 440 addresses both hearing loss and tinnitus management. It is a new hearing aid with a unique “Zen” feature—which is approved by the FDA for tinnitus management. Zen allows the listener to hear relaxing chime-type music which can be played alone or with a hearing aid amplification program. The music is computer generated and does not repeat itself. The novelty of the music helps manage and mask tinnitus as well as encourage overall relaxation. The music plays at a volume slightly above background noise. It does not interfere with your daily activities, but it is loud enough to provide relief.
Hearing Aid Devices for Tinnitus
Many people who suffer from tinnitus and hearing loss find amplification devices or hearing aids can provide relief.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
TRT focuses on retraining the brain. Often used in conjunction with tinnitus maskers, TRT treats emotional reaction to tinnitus and retrains your subconscious auditory system to recognize that tinnitus is not a threat. The goal of TRT is to accustom your brain to tinnitus. You may still perceive ringing, but it is no longer connected to negative or unpleasant feelings.
Neuromonics Tinnitus Treatment
This approach uses music and a customized acoustic stimulus. The stimulus is embedded in precisely designed relaxing music that is delivered through a Neuromonic Oasis Processor (an MP3-like device). Neuromonics is designed to stimulate auditory pathways and promote changes in the brain, which eventually allow it to filter out tinnitus. A specially trained audiologist performs this treatment, which lasts about six months.
Exciting new discoveries are being made in the area of tinnitus. One particularly hopeful study by Michael D. Seidman, M.D., F.A.C.S. and Susan M. Bowyer, Ph.D., from Henry Ford Hospital used MEG brain scans to locate the site where tinnitus is perceived in the brain. This research may lead to more treatment options in the future.
Scientist Christo Pantev and his colleagues at the University of Muenster had patients choose their favorite music. Then they removed the frequencies in the music that matched the patient’s tinnitus. After a year of listening to this specialized, or “notched,” music, patients noticed a significant decrease in the perception of the loudiness of their tinnitus compared to a control group. Brain scans revealed reduced auditory cortex activity corresponding to the frequency of the tinnitus. Though this therapy is not yet commercially available, it is a promising future treatment.
For more information on tinnitus check out the following resources:
- American Tinnitus Association
- Mayo Clinic
- National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
- American Academy of Audiology
If you would like to schedule an appointment with a hearing care professional at Whisper Hearing or for more information about tinnitus and the available treatment options, call us toll-free at 888-986-4327.