Tinnitus: The Facts

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Tinnitus may not be a commonly known term, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that nearly 15 percent of Americans experience some form of tinnitus during their lifetime. That 15 percent translates to over 50 million people, with about 20 million of them experiencing burdensome chronic tinnitus. 2 million people have extreme, debilitating cases of tinnitus.

To help you become more familiar with this common condition, we have compiled some key facts about tinnitus. We hope you find them helpful!

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often simply defined as a ringing or buzzing in the ears. However, tinnitus can include any perception of sound when there is no actual, external sound present. The most common sounds reported by tinnitus sufferers include ringing, buzzing, clicking, and humming sounds.

Depending on the person, the reported sounds associated with tinnitus may change. Some people experience only one sound, while others hear multiple. In addition, they may hear the sound from one ear, both ears, or from inside their head.

What causes tinnitus?

The exact cause of tinnitus is unknown. Most audiology and medical professionals agree that tinnitus results from some type of change, whether mental or physical. If the change is physical, it does not necessarily need to relate to the ears in order to cause tinnitus. Common causes associated with tinnitus include the following:

  • Hearing loss
  • Noise exposure
  • Certain medications
  • High-stress periods
  • Head or neck injuries
  • Impacted earwax
  • Middle ear pathology or dysfunction

While these causes have been connected to tinnitus, in most people’s cases, the exact cause of the condition is difficult to pinpoint.

Is tinnitus caused by hearing loss?

As noted above, the exact cause of tinnitus is not known in most cases. It may sometimes be connected to hearing loss, but not in every case.

If the tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss, hearing aids can be an effective treatment. Hearing aids can amplify low-level background sound, which can lessen the sufferer’s awareness of the tinnitus. The use of hearing devices also aids with communication and reduces the fatigue and stress associated with intensive listening.

How is tinnitus treated?

Occasionally, a medical professional may tell a person with tinnitus that “nothing can be done.” In these instances, the person is expected to learn to live with the condition. Fortunately, this is not the whole truth.

While it is true that some people do “get used to” the condition and live with it, many treatment courses are available for those who suffer from tinnitus. Although there is no cure for tinnitus, the available treatment options often help sufferers manage the condition to the point that it is no longer a concern.

For the most effective treatment, a person suffering from tinnitus should likely have input from multiple professionals, including a general practitioner, an audiologist or tinnitus specialist, an ENT specialist, a physiotherapist, and a counselor. Depending on the individual, a sleep specialist or temporomandibular joint dental specialist may also prove helpful.

The most common tinnitus treatment strategies include:

  • Hearing devices
  • Stress reduction and relaxation strategies
  • Sound enrichment
  • Neuromonics treatment
  • Sleep solutions
  • Behavioral techniques (e.g., cognitive behavior therapy, acceptance commitment therapy, etc.)

Do I need to seek professional help for tinnitus?

In some cases, the tinnitus is so minor that it does not present a problem for the sufferer. Tinnitus may dissipate over time, or the person may habituate to the sound. However, you should seek professional care if your tinnitus:

  • Is accompanied by hearing loss or hearing difficulty
  • Is only in one ear
  • Starts or changes suddenly
  • Interferes with sleep
  • Interrupts your ability to concentrate
  • Becomes bothersome and intrusive
  • Affects your general wellbeing

If you believe you may have tinnitus and require treatment, we welcome you to contact our hearing practice today. We are dedicated to providing you with the care you need.

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