Those with severe chronic tinnitus often find it difficult to relax or concentrate because of the ringing, buzzing, chirping, or whooshing sound they hear. Nationwide statistics show that close to 12 million Canadians struggle with some form of tinnitus.
The majority of people experience temporary noise-induced hearing loss and/or tinnitus that comes and goes after a loud concert or major sporting event. However, in about 25% of tinnitus cases the disturbing sound never goes away, causing depression, anxiety, insomnia, irritation, and stress.
If you’re struggling with tinnitus, we’re eager to help you understand what you’re dealing with and apply solutions to help you get relief, but we’re also concerned about the damage to your hearing that might be causing the unwanted noise.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound that has no external source. It is generally classified as either subjective or objective.
About 95% or more cases of tinnitus are subjective, which means the sound is heard only by the individual. Less common objective tinnitus sounds are generated by sources within the body and transmitted to the ear. They can sometimes be heard by an examiner with the help of a stethoscope.
Perceived sounds vary from person to person and can be described as ringing, buzzing, roaring, grinding, or like the noise produced by crickets or cicadas, the wind, or releasing steam. The sound can be a steady tone or it can be pulsatile and synchronous with the heartbeat.
The central gain theory is the most commonly accepted theory as to how tinnitus manifests itself. This theory asserts that the brain creates sound signals to replace sounds it no longer receives through auditory channels (in instances of noise-induced hearing loss), much like the “phantom limb” phenomenon experienced by amputees.
The fact that tinnitus often shows up with hearing loss lends support to this theory, but there are cases not connected to hearing disorders that are not explained by it. Consequently, no definitive cause for tinnitus has ever been identified.
Potential Causes for the Ringing in Your Ears
The exact cause of tinnitus continues to elude audiologists and researchers, but certain conditions often coincide with or are contributing factors to it. There are conditions that produce tinnitus symptoms that are hearing- or sound-related, like:
- Noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)
- Impacted earwax
- Fluid behind the eardrum
- Untreated hearing loss
Other physical or medical conditions that can cause an individual to experience acute or chronic tinnitus symptoms include:
- Head trauma or a significant blow to the ear
- Ototoxic medication side effects
- Heart and blood vessel issues
- Dental issues
Because of its relationship to other hearing and medical conditions and its complexity, those who struggle with tinnitus should consult a professional audiologist in order to determine its cause.
What Is Noise-Induced Hearing Loss?
Because of the prevalence of noise-induced hearing loss among those who experience tinnitus, it’s necessary to have a better understanding of noise-induced hearing loss, or NIHL.
NIHL is a type of permanent hearing loss caused by a single extreme noise event, like an explosion; or by ongoing exposure to the loud noises at work, like those of heavy machinery; or music during a concert, at a club, or through earbuds.
The hairlike sensory cells located in the inner ear, which are responsible for transforming incoming sound into the electrical signals that the brain receives and converts into meaningful sounds, become damaged when exposed to a loud noise event or ongoing noise.
This damage occurs in proportion to the length of time you’re exposed to various noises above 85 decibels (dB) or the intensity of a noise event, like an explosion (140+ dB). Left unprotected, the noise from many common household, work, recreational, and social activities can cause permanent damage.
Just about everyone has walked away from a loud concert, a nightclub, or a major sporting event with their ears ringing for a short period of time. Though that sound may be temporary, it is a warning from your brain that you’ve damaged your hearing, which means you should take both acute and chronic tinnitus seriously.
Your Tinnitus Evaluation
Your tinnitus evaluation will lay the groundwork for the treatment options applied to your condition. It is designed to zero in on your unique type of tinnitus, measure its intensity, and determine the extent of its effect on your lifestyle and quality of life as well as help rule out various medical causes and hearing loss.
A five-step tinnitus evaluation will include the following.
1. Your evaluation will begin with a discussion of your condition, medications you’re taking or medical conditions you might have, recent or ongoing exposure to loud noise, and other factors that often coincide with tinnitus.
2. Your audiologist will perform a series of hearing tests in order to rule out or confirm hearing loss as a contributing factor.
3. We will evaluate the loudness and pitch of your symptoms.
4. You will complete and submit a Tinnitus Handicap Inventory to demonstrate how tinnitus affects your daily life and lifestyle.
5. Your tinnitus specialist will discuss the appropriate solutions to address your specific case.
A referral for additional testing by an ENT or other medical professional may be called for to help rule out suspected other conditions that are known to produce tinnitus symptoms.
Treatment Options for the Ringing in Your Ears
There is no cure or one-size-fits-all management program for tinnitus, because no two individuals experience it the same way. Additionally, tinnitus symptoms may be mild on some days, while on other days they may make it nearly impossible to concentrate, relax, and/or fall asleep.
A tinnitus management program is developed from the information gathered during your tinnitus assessment. It will be a customized approach designed to address your unique needs. The
proven technologies and therapeutic techniques used will vary from case to case, but can include:
- Hearing aids, which can treat NIHL as well as provide sound masking
- Sound maskers and tinnitus treatment technologies, designed to help decrease awareness of tinnitus
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), which teaches you how to cope with tinnitus sounds and limit their effect
- on your daily life
While those with noise-induced hearing loss will find relief from hearing aids, others who require assistance for managing their tinnitus will be better served by a holistic therapeutic approach that combines sound masking and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT).
TRT, sometimes called habituation therapy, involves training your brain to perceive the phantom sounds of tinnitus differently. Using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach, it helps address the emotional challenges, like depression, stress, or anger, that often exacerbate the condition.
Tinnitus Doesn’t Have to Control Your Life
The screams that come from the silence when you have tinnitus can have a significant impact on your lifestyle and quality of life. Whether your condition is related to noise-induced hearing loss or some other physical or medical condition, you can get control over your tinnitus.
Our audiologists understand your struggle and we’re eager to provide you with the information and guidance you need to manage your tinnitus, provide the right hearing aids, or refer you to other specialists to treat the underlying condition responsible for the ringing in your ears.
Start getting the relief you need by contacting us today!