What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head not caused by an external sound source. Ringing and buzzing sounds may be heard in one or both ears or appear to be generally in the head region but can be variable and difficult to decide exactly where it seems to be.
Tinnitus is not an illness or a disease in itself, but it is often a symptom of a problem with the ear or the hearing pathways to the brain. Usually, it occurs when the inner ear is damaged or impaired in some way.
These are just a few of the most common causes, but it can also be a side-effect of medication or a result of other health concerns, such as high blood pressure. It is also commonly associated with age-related hearing loss, although it can affect anyone at any age. Learn more about the causes of tinnitus here.
What are the symptoms of tinnitus?
It is often described as a "ringing in the ears," but what people with this condition hear is extremely variable. Some people hear hissing, whooshing, roaring, whistling or clicking. It can be intermittent or constant, single or multiple tones or more noise-like. Probably the most common description for noise-induced tinnitus is a high pitched tone or noise.
The volume or loudness is very individual and can range from very quiet to loud. For some, these noises can be intermittent and change throughout the day, or for others, can be more constant and unchanging.
How many people have tinnitus?
The World Health Organisation (WHO) now lists tinnitus as a distinct disorder and states that noise exposure is a major cause of permanent hearing loss around the world. Prevalence increases with age but experiences of it are very common in all age groups, especially following exposure to loud noise.
You may experience anxiety, depression or have difficulty sleeping if you have tinnitus. It can be confusing and even frightening when it occurs for the first time, but it is rarely a symptom of a serious disorder. If it lasts for longer than a week, or if it is affecting your concentration, sleep or anxiety levels, book an appointment with your GP or with your local Bay Audiology audiologist.
In some cases, the problem can be managed with relaxation exercises. There are also specialist hearing solutions available that can provide sound therapy to distract you from the noise of it.
What are the treatments for tinnitus?
While in many cases there is no ‘magical cure’ for tinnitus, there are a number of very effective options to manage the condition and your body’s response to it. As treatment plans are specific to individual needs, we’ll ask you some screening questions to find the best options for your lifestyle needs. We will conduct a full diagnostic consultation. If other tests are required, we may refer you to an Ear Nose and Throat specialist. Treatment options to reduce tinnitus are:
- Correctly fitted hearing aids of good quality. Hearing aids can help your tinnitus as it assists in overcoming any underlying hearing loss. By reducing the amount of attention your brain is paying to the tinnitus, hearing aids can give you some relief and for some people can eliminate it all together.
- Sound therapy in conjunction with hearing aids. Sound therapy is designed to assist the hearing centres of the brain in ‘tuning out’ the tinnitus. If you have a hearing loss, sound therapy will work best in conjunction with hearing aids. Sound therapy uses external sounds, such as music or a static-like noise, to partially obscure the tinnitus signal. Over time, the brain is able to automatically tune out the sound of the tinnitus.
- Playing music or nature sounds while trying to sleep or when in quiet environments
- Using volume-limiting headphones when listening to personal music devices.