The following editorial was written by licensed audiologist, Steven R Taddei (AuD). Check out his Podcast on the subject matter below.
What Is Tinnitus?
Worthy of an Edgar Allen Poe poem, tinnitus can be melodic, persistent, elusive, and disturbing. It can take many forms such as ringing, buzzing, hissing, or even music.
For some people, it is spontaneous and temporary while others hear it constantly. Tinnitus can even manifest as two distinct and dissonant tones between the ears.
If you have never experienced tinnitus, recall the hissing noise from an old tube television. If that does not ring a bell, you can listen here to simulations made through the British Tinnitus Association.
Tinnitus is the involuntary perception of sound originating from the head (McFadden, 1982).
In other words, it is a noise people hear that does not exist in the surrounding soundscape. There is much uncertainty and confusion regarding this phantom sensation.
Perhaps not surprisingly, even the pronunciation of its name strikes much controversy (both ti-NIGHT-us and TINN-a-tus are appropriate).
It can cause anxiety, stress, poor concentration, and sleep disturbances (Mckenna, 2000; McKenna & Daniel, 2006; Tyler & Baker, 1983).
Fortunately, tinnitus is not always a cause for concern.
For example, most of the population will perceive some phantom noises if left in an anechoic environment, i.e. a room with minimal to no sound reflections.
While tinnitus can be a trivial perception, there are certain indications that may be cause for concern and further evaluation with a general practitioner, otologist, and or an audiologist. Some red flags include:
Pulsatile tinnitus (rhythmic tinnitus at the rate of your heartbeat)
Prolonged unilateral tinnitus (occurring in only one ear)
Sudden onset of tinnitus
Worsening of tinnitus
It is no wonder, given its complexity and variability, that tinnitus can draw so much attention.
Is There Really No Cure For Tinnitus?
It is important to note that tinnitus is a symptom and not a diagnosis.
This means that tinnitus is the result of something else going on in our bodies and, therefore, our ability to cure someone’s tinnitus depends on the root cause.
People experiencing tinnitus as a result of:
Temporal mandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
Many will likely see, or better yet hear, relief once the cause is treated.
Some medications also have noted side effects of tinnitus, e.g. non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), cancer treatments, water pills (diuretics), and some antibiotics. Discontinuing the use of such medications can ease symptoms of tinnitus or remove them entirely.
If you believe your tinnitus is associated with your medication, speak with your prescribing practitioner for advice—do not stop taking medications without consulting a professional.
Clearly, there are some mechanisms behind tinnitus that are curable.
This begs the question, does your tinnitus fall under one of these curable categories?
The first step in answering that question requires you to visit your general practitioner. Further evaluation with a specialist may be necessary to diagnose the underlying causes and rule-out anything sinister.
For many people, tinnitus cannot be improved with medical intervention.
This does not mean there is no hope.
On the contrary, there are many treatment options supported by scientific studies. Here are some tinnitus management options.
Educating yourself is a fantastic start to managing your tinnitus. Not surprisingly, some people can better cope once they understand their tinnitus is not a sign of psychological issues or a life-threatening ailment.
This is a good recommendation for everyone. If you need yet another reason to relax, people with high levels of stress share a similar probability of developing tinnitus as those exposed to occupational noise (Baigi et al, 2011).
80-90% of individuals with tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss (Sweetow, 2012). Therefore, pursuing amplification alone can significantly improve your quality of life. Professionally fit hearing aids have also been shown to provide some individuals with tinnitus relief through reduced stress/auditory fatigue and masking (Kochkin et al; 2011; Searchfield et al, 2010).
Many people hear their tinnitus worsen at night or while in quiet environments. This is because external environmental sounds can help cover up and distract you from tinnitus. Consider using a fan, television, white-noise generator, or music. Apps such as GN Resound Relief (read more here) are free, provide multiple maskers, and offer both information and stress reduction techniques.
Some people can experience a worsening of tinnitus following exposure to loud and or sudden noises. Hearing protection is an easy solution to mitigate such issues and can help protect you from sustaining further hearing damage.
When looking for different methods to manage your tinnitus, it is important to do your homework and keep up to date. There are many products on the market without a proven track record.
Acupuncture, for example, has not been shown to be effective in the treatment of tinnitus (Park et al. 2000).
Further, here are other treatment options that are not recommended based on tinnitus guidelines published by the American Academy of Otolaryngology (Tunkel et al, 2014):
Antidepressants, anticonvulsants, anxiolytics, and intratympanic medications.
Ginkgo biloba, melatonin, zinc, or other dietary supplements.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT involves education, stress reduction, and other forms of behavioral intervention. The goal is to teach you techniques to identify and challenge your negative thoughts regarding tinnitus. In doing so, your tinnitus can become less bothersome as you change your pattern of behavior and reactive tendencies towards the perceived sound.
Find Out What Works For You
There are a number of tinnitus management options out there, though it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Some have found that meditation can be a great way to alleviate some of the symptoms, while others have great success using a white noise generator to subdue the persistent ringing. There are also apps like AudioCardio that utilize “Threshold Sound Conditioning” to help protect and strengthen your hearing.
Gently blocks disruptive sounds of the outside world in your home, office, hotel room, or vacation home. Effectively buffers outside noise disruption from noisy neighbors, barking dogs, snoring partners, chatty coworkers, and city sounds. Also helps with managing tinnitus symptoms.