Tinnitus is usually known as a “ringing” sensation in the ear, but it can also be experienced as a buzzing, humming, hissing or whistling that only the person who has it can hear. This internal noise can vary in its irritation, but it can also be, in rare instances, a symptom of a serious medical problem.
For some people, the noise may come and go and only cause minor irritation. But for other people, it can be continuous and have a greater impact on quality of life, including problems sleeping and difficulty concentrating.
What causes tinnitus?
In many patients, tinnitus may be due to one or more of the following:
● Age-related hearing loss;
● Exposure to loud noise resulting in damage to the inner ear;
● A middle ear infection;
● A buildup of earwax;
● Meniere’s disease – a condition that is also associated with hearing loss and vertigo;
● Otosclerosis – an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear that causes hearing loss.
There is no treatment to cure tinnitus although symptoms may improve over time. The approaches discussed below will help manage the problem on a daily basis.
Consult your doctor if you continually hear tinnitus-related sounds. If an underlying cause can be identified, the problem may be easily treated.
In the case where an underlying or specific cause cannot be found, treatment will focus on managing the symptoms to help you cope. Talk to your healthcare provider to discuss whether any of these treatments may be helpful to you:
Sound therapy involves listening to specially recorded classical music to stimulate the brain and rehabilitate the ear. This type of therapy can be done at home or at work. Sound therapy tones the middle ear muscles, calms hyperactive brain cells, stimulates the cilia, and corrects auditory mapping to help restore normal auditory function. Think of it like physiotherapy for the ear and brain. The time taken to achieve results can vary from 24 hours up to 14 months.
Relaxation Techniques. Symptoms of tinnitus are often exacerbated by stress, so relaxation techniques may be useful.
Fan, Radio, or White Noise Machine. For people who mostly have problems caused by tinnitus when they are trying to sleep, the use of a fan, radio, or a white noise machine may help to camouflage the annoyance.
Counseling. Talking with someone about your condition may help you cope with it more effectively.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) aims to help retrain the way your brain responds to tinnitus, helping you to be less aware of it so that it becomes less noticeable. TRT uses masking devices that resemble hearing aids and produce low level sounds that can help reduce awareness of tinnitus.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) aims to help change the way that you think about tinnitus so you can feel less irritation and distress brought on by the internal noise.
Any time that tinnitus comes on suddenly (especially in one ear), it’s important to consult your doctor immediately as the symptom may be associated with sudden hearing loss.
Tinnitus can be annoying, but for many people, addressing the symptoms may make it become less noticeable. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the best options for you.