It is Tinnitus Awareness Week (February 6-12) and as Audiologists we see many patients who experience tinnitus. This week is a great opportunity to review the facts about tinnitus and maybe clear up some myths too.

Tinnitus, pronounced tin-na-tus or ti-night-us, is a sound perceived in the ear(s) or head that is present when there is no external sound source. Tinnitus is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” but is also described as buzzing, hissing, roarding, chirpring, etc. Some people even descrbies tinnitus as a musical song.

How common is tinnitus?

Approximately 10-15% of adults in the U.S. have experienced some form of tinnitus. That is roughly 32-48 million people.

Are there different kinds of tinnitus?

Subjective: This is the most common type of tinnitus and is characterized as only being heard by the person experiencing it.

Objective: This type of tinnitus is very rare, less than 1% of people who experience tinnitus. Objective tinnitus can be heard by another person.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not a disease; rather, it is a symptom of some other underlying health condition in the hearing system or brain pathway. It is often linked to hearing loss, but there are many other health conditions that have tinnitus as a symptom. Some of the most common conditions include: noise-induced hearing loss, age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), ear infections, TMJ, brain injury, high blood pressure, and stress. Some of these conditions can be temporary or transient, which cause temporary tinnitus. Other conditions are permanent or chronic, which cause permanent tinnitus. As a general guideline, if tinnitus has been present for at least 1-2 years, it is typically considered permanent.

What can cause changes in tinnitus?

There are a number of lifestyle choices that can aggravate or exacerbate tinnitus including: loud noise exposure, stress, caffeine, tobacco, medications, salt and alcohol. Consulting with an Audiologist to identify tinnitus aggravators is important and he/she can make recommendations to monitor those aggravators and help reduce exacerbation.

When is clinical intervention necessary?

As recommended by the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, people who experience tinnitus in one ear or who have experienced tinnitus longer than 6 months should have a hearing evaluation by an Audiologist. A hearing evaluation is crucial in determining the presence of hearing loss and potential causes to the tinnitus.

Tinnitus creates a functional impairment in about 20% of people who experience it. A person’s perception of the impairment is key in determining the need for intervention. Clinical intervention is likely warranted if a person feels like tinnitus disrupts important life activities and/or causes a noticeable reduction in quality of life.

How is tinnitus evaluated?

A comprehensive hearing evaluation is recommended to determine if hearing loss exists. In addition, a more extensive evaluation of the characteristics of tinnitus can be performed. This evaluation may include use of subjective questionnaires to measure the degree that tinnitus has impacted one’s quality of life. An objective evaluation can also be conducted to determine the intensity level and pitch of the tinnitus. These assessments can prove useful in distinguishing individuals who require clinical intervention from those who do not, and in determining candidacy and prognosis of benefit from tinnitus treatment.

How can tinnitus be treated?

Currently, there is no clinically proven cure for tinnitus; however, there are many options to manage tinnitus. Audiologists are the only professionals in the state of Colorado, and in most states, who provide tinnitus management/treatment and who also work with hearing aids. One of the most successful tinnitus management tools is the use of hearing aids since they help to provide stimulation to the hearing system. Multiple hearing aid manufacturers also offer tinnitus sound therapy with their hearing aids that has been shown to further provide tinnitus management. Dietary and lifestyle changes may also be recommended.

Often the tinnitus itself cannot be changed, but a person’s reaction to it can be changed. This may require making certain lifestyle adjustments to reduce sleep disturbance, concentration difficulties, or any negative emotions that are associated with tinnitus and can be managed through individualized treatment recommendations made by our audiologists.

It is important to consult with an Audiologist if you experience tinnitus!