Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is the perception of a sound that has no external source. Some of the more common sounds reported are ringing, humming, buzzing, or cricket-like. It can be constant or intermittent and is heard in one ear, both ears, or in the head. Tinnitus can originate in the middle ear (behind the eardrum) or in the inner ear (cochlea), which can also be referred to as sensorineural hearing loss. Not to worry, we specialize in Tinnitus diagnosis and treatment, we’re here to help!
Sensorineural hearing loss, or SNHL, happens after inner ear damage occurs. Problems with the nerve pathways from your inner ear to your brain can also cause SNHL. Soft sounds may be hard to hear. Even louder sounds may be unclear or may sound muffled.
We’re here to help. If you feel you’re experiencing these symptoms, set up an appointment with us. Together, we’ll get to the bottom of it!
- Noise exposure (e.g., from shooting or machines at work)
- A natural part of the aging process
- Head injury (e.g., from a car accident or fall)
- As a side effect of medications (e.g., aspirin—see ototoxic drugs)
It is important to keep in mind that tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease. As such, the optimal treatment strategy should be directed toward eliminating the disease, rather than simply alleviating the symptom. Also, because it may be symptomatic of a more serious disorder, it is important to try to find the medical cause before deciding on treatment. But of course, first it’s important to determine whether you have tinnitus in the first place, which is why we provide tinnitus diagnosis and treatment, all here at Longmont Hearing and Tinnitus Center!
Preventing and Minimizing Tinnitus
Here are a few things you can do to help prevent and minimize tinnitus:
- Reduce exposure to extremely loud noise
- Avoid total silence
- Decrease salt intake
- Monitor your blood pressure
- Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine
- Reduce fatigue
- Manage stress
- Educate yourself
While there is no known cure for most forms of tinnitus, these are several management options available. Most sufferers can find varying degrees of relief from one or a combination of the above. That’s why we offer tinnitus diagnosis and treatment, we’re here to do what we can to offer you relief.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (Audiology Habituation)
- Directive counseling provides intensive, individualized education regarding the causes and effects of tinnitus on the ear, the brain, and the coping mechanism.
- Low-level sound generators produce broadband noise via hearing aid type devices at a soft enough level so that the brain perceives both the noise and the tinnitus. Eventually, the brain may relearn a pattern that will de-emphasize the importance of the tinnitus. These devices also may be helpful in desensitizing patients who are overly sensitive to sound.
- The use of an externally produced sound to either cover up or in some way inhibit or alter production of tinnitus can offer relief for some. There are six main methods of acoustic stimulation.
- A sound generator, sometimes called tinnitus masker: an ear-level electronic device housed in a hearing aid case that produces a white noise.
- A tinnitus instrument: a combination hearing aid and sound generator.
- Hearing aids: help to amplify speech as well as environmental noise and thus stimulate areas of the ear and brain that otherwise may not be receiving adequate stimulation because of the hearing loss.
- A tabletop or portable sound generator: these can be purchased at certain electronic suppliers such as the Sharper Image.
- Home masking: such as the use of electric fans, radios or television.
- Music therapy (see below).
Unfortunately, some tinnitus sufferers find that masking noise may merely be a substitute of one annoying sound for another. It is thus better to try to relegate the annoyance of tinnitus to the background of one’s consciousness through habituation or retraining methods.
Many patients find that music, particularly classical passages that don’t contain wide variations in loudness (amplitude) can be both soothing to the limbic system (the emotional processor in the brain that is commonly negatively linked to a patient’s reaction to tinnitus) and stimulating to the auditory cortex. If a hearing loss is present, it may be necessary to alter the spectrum of the music so that the cortical neurons receive appropriate stimulation.
The use of hearing aids and a combination of hearing aids and maskers are often effective ways to minimize tinnitus. While it is not clear whether hearing aids help by amplifying background sounds that can mask out the tinnitus or by actually altering the production of tinnitus, most hearing aid wearers report at least some reduction in their tinnitus. This may be due to the reduction in contrast between tinnitus and silence, or because of the new stimulation provided to the brain.
There is no medication or herbal supplement medically proven to alleviate tinnitus symptoms. Some antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are helpful for certain patients, however, more research is needed in this area. We recommend scheduling an appointment with us—we can evaluate your tinnitus and make recommendations for possible steps forward to hearing health. Give us a shout today!
The term hyperacusis is generally applied to people who experience the sounds of everyday life as intrusively loud, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful. Some people notice an increase in sensitivity after they have had a difficult life event, for example, bereavement. In many people, though, there is no clear reason why hyperacusis started.
Hyperacusis affects people in different ways. For some people, it is a minor annoyance, but other people find it really difficult to live with. Some people with hyperacusis withdraw from social and professional activities and become isolated; this can make the problem worse as they become fearful and anxious. Therapy often involves addressing these fears and anxieties.
The management of hyperacusis usually involves the treatment of any medical conditions associated with the condition, counseling, and often the use of sound therapy.
There are a few medical conditions that have hyperacusis as a symptom, so it is important to get a medical opinion. Medical conditions that are on occasion associated with altered sound tolerance include migraines, post-head injury syndrome, Lyme disease, William’s syndrome, and Bell’s palsy. People who find it difficult to process sensory information (eg: those with autistic spectrum disorder) can also find hyperacusis a problem. Sometimes people experience hyperacusis after certain types of ear surgery.
Exposure to sudden loud noise can sometimes trigger hyperacusis. For some, a negative life event appears to be associated with the onset, but for many people, no clear reason can be identified.
There are several theories about the mechanisms that underlie hyperacusis. What they share in common is that hyperacusis is usually associated with increased sensitivity (or auditory gain) in the central auditory system (the hearing pathways in the brain). This sensitivity can be influenced by mood.
If you are concerned about your tolerance to noise, let us help! Schedule an appointment with our Doctors of audiology today. We’re here to help.
(Source: British Tinnitus Association)