Ever wonder what that annoying ringing or buzzing sound is in your ear? It is tinnitus, the perception of a sound that is not present in the surrounding environment. You’re not alone if you hear it in your ears all day long. 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree, and it is the number one cause of disability among returning war veterans. You are much more likely to experience tinnitus if you have hearing loss, but may have it without any hearing loss at all. Tinnitus can be exacerbated by stress, smoking, caffeine, noise exposure, and taking excessive amounts of aspirin. Tinnitus is generally most bothersome in quiet environments, if it fluctuates in volume or is only heard in one ear. The emotional impact of tinnitus can range from simple annoyance and frustration, to anger, anxiety, sleep disturbance and impaired concentration, to more severe conditions such as a formal anxiety disorder or depression.
Treatment Options for Tinnitus
The first step in seeking treatment for this problem is a comprehensive audiometric evaluation and consultation with one of our doctors. It is important to rule out other medical causes of the tinnitus prior to seeking help for the symptom of tinnitus.
Medication to Treat Tinnitus
Some types of tinnitus are responsive to medications. Certain antidepressants are known to have a side effect of reducing tinnitus. Meanwhile, aspirin can increase tinnitus.
Education about Tinnitus
The brain is exceptionally good at provoking the body into action. When tinnitus is heard for the first time, it generates feelings of uncertainty or fear and prompts you to take action by seeking medical evaluation and treatment. If healthcare professionals determine that nothing dangerous is causing the tinnitus, then the patient’s response to the tinnitus changes.The patient is better able to “ignore” the tinnitus instead of wondering if there is something wrong. This understanding helps the tinnitus to fade into the background, and it may become less annoying. If education alone isn’t sufficient in treating the tinnitus, then appropriate behavioral counseling may be required.
Behavioral Counseling to Help with Tinnitus
Working with a specially trained tinnitus professional can be helpful to reverse the negative impact of tinnitus on psychological health and quality of life. Counseling is often used in combination with sound therapies, such as tinnitus retraining therapy or Neuromonics. The final goal is habituation, when your brain no longer attends to the tinnitus. Treatment of the anger, anxiety and depression which often result from tinnitus have proven to be helpful as well.
Simple relaxation techniques have been proven to be effective in relieving the tension caused by tinnitus. Breathing and muscle relaxation exercises are helpful in training the body to relax and breaking the cycle of tension and worry which can make the tinnitus worse.
Noise Generators (Masking Devices)
There is a plethora of devices available which generate a pleasant sound to help cover up the tinnitus. Examples include applications on smart phones, sound generators or a simple ceiling fan. Many different types of sounds can be selected ranging from static to waves or frogs chirping. These sounds are more pleasant to listen to than the buzzing tinnitus, but are also psychologically powerful because the sound is selected to be heard.
Tinnitus associated with hearing loss is harder to ignore since hearing acuity is reduced. Thankfully, this type of tinnitus is almost always helped by hearing aids. Hearing aids bring in more sounds to help cover up the annoying sound originating from within the head. Certain hearing aids have extra features which can be activated in the cases where the amplification alone isn’t enough to alleviate the tinnitus. Widex Zen is a great example of this technology which uses random, chime-like tones for relaxation and for tinnitus treatment. The tones allow a patient to avoid complete silence and reduce the focus on the tinnitus. The hearing aid monitors the level of sounds coming into it and activates the Zen tones when it is quiet.
This is NOT an effective treatment for tinnitus and will actually make it appear to be worse! Earplugs block out sounds from the environment and bring even more attention to the sound originating from inside.
Approximately 50% of people with tinnitus exhibit hyperacusis, an oversensitivity to sound.
Audiologists Mary Gamble and Denise E. Koehler and otolaryngologists Dr. Rohn and Dr. Gamble of Otolaryngology Specialists of North Texas are highly experienced and uniquely qualified to identify a wide variety of pathology and underlying medical conditions of tinnitus.