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Tinnitus…The Assault on Quiet Moments

The following article will appear in the ‘Welcome to Hearing Health’ section of Bend Life magazine this coming June. Dr. Li-Korotky writes a monthly column for Bend Life.

Introduction

Tinnitus is the perception of sounds that have no external source.

The severity of tinnitus varies from an occasional awareness of a noise (e.g., ringing, hissing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, or rough sounds) in one or both ears, to an unbearable and incessant sound that drives some people to consider suicide. Tinnitus isn’t a single disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition. Tinnitus is not a ‘phantom sound’. There is real neural activity in your brain associated with tinnitus.

How Does Tinnitus Influence Quality of Life?

Depending on the severity, tinnitus can promote a wide range of negative lifestyle effects, including fatigue, stress, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating, memory problems, depression, anxiety, and irritability. It can also interfere with hearing and cause emotional distress. In extreme cases, tinnitus can fuel depression and thoughts of suicide.

Who Gets Tinnitus?

The American Tinnitus Association estimates that more than 50 million Americans have some degree of tinnitus problems, and approximately 12 million people having symptoms severe enough to seek medical care. Tinnitus is a significant reality for 27% of those between the ages of 65 and 84, and 4 out of ten tinnitus sufferers experience tinnitus most of the day. Tinnitus is the most common service-connected disability among U.S. veterans.

What Causes Tinnitus?

According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), noise exposure (including hazardous levels of industrial, recreational, or military noise) is the largest cause of tinnitus. Other conditions linked to tinnitus include ear injuries, cardiovascular disease, age-related hearing loss, wax build-up in the ear canal, medications harmful to the ear (aspirin, certain antibiotics, loop diuretics, chemotherapy), ear or sinus infections, misaligned jaw joints (TMJ), head and neck trauma, Meniere’s disease, or an abnormal growth of bone of the middle ear. In rare cases, slow-growing tumors on auditory, vestibular, or facial nerves can cause tinnitus.

How is Tinnitus Evaluated?

If you are having trouble with tinnitus, visit a well-qualified audiologist. The audiologist will conduct a comprehensive assessment and advise you of the most effective management options to alleviate the symptoms of your tinnitus.

A full tinnitus assessment takes 1.5-2 hours and includes 1) a detailed case history to determine how the tinnitus is affecting you as a person, 2) a comprehensive hearing assessment to determine the characteristics and possible causes of your tinnitus, 3) Tinnitus pitch-, intensity-, and loudness-matching tests to help the audiologist counsel you effectively during the treatment phase, 4) measurement of your sensitivity to noise masking, and 5) recommendations for managing your tinnitus. If audiometric tests suggest an underlying medical condition such as an acoustic neuroma (a benign, slow growing tumor along the hearing nerve), the audiologist will refer you to an ENT physician.

Can Tinnitus be Treated?

Treatments generally focus on counseling to reduce (manage) negative emotions and reactions to tinnitus, utilizing sound therapy, relaxation, and stress-reduction techniques. Hearing aids may be helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. It is important to note that there are no current treatments that will eliminate tinnitus with any consistency, and no drugs have been approved specifically for the treatment of the condition. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may be used to treat conditions that coexist with tinnitus, such as anxiety and depression.

About the Author:

Dr. Ha-Sheng Li-Korotky is a Gold-level Professional member of the American Tinnitus Association, and the President of Pacific Northwest Audiology, based in Bend, Oregon. The Doctor is a nationally acclaimed clinician and research scientist, with AuD, PhD, and MD credentials and more than 100 scientific publications. Pacific Northwest Audiology offers a full spectrum of Tinnitus evaluation and management services.

Tinnitus Awareness Week – May 19-25 2013

Pacific Northwest Audiology joins with the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) to recognize Tinnitus Awareness Week


Established in 1927, May has since been known as “Better Hearing and Speech Month” – a time to raise national public awareness, knowledge and understanding of speech, language and hearing disorders. To complement ATA’s year-round advocacy efforts, each year we set aside a week in May to focus specifically on increasing public awareness about tinnitus and most importantly the need for increased funding for tinnitus research.

What You Should Know About Tinnitus

These facts were collected by the American Tinnitus Association:

  • According to data analyzed from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 50 million people in the United States experience tinnitus (and millions more worldwide); of those, 16 million have sought medical attention for their tinnitus and 2-3 million are completely disabled from their tinnitus.
  • Tinnitus is most often the result of noise exposure; either from a single impulse (extreme) noise, or cumulative exposure to noise. Head and neck injury are the second leading known cause of tinnitus and this cause is on the rise in military and veteran populations.
  • According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), tinnitus is the #1 service-connected disability for veterans accounting for over 840,000 individuals and the cost to compensate veterans for tinnitus is over $1.28 billion annually.
  • In the United States, economic loss to an individual who has tinnitus can be up to $30,000 annually and up to $26,000,000,000 to society as a whole.
  • In 2012, between all public and private funding in the U.S. combined, approximately $10 million was spent on tinnitus research.
  • Sixty percent of all cases of auditory injury, including tinnitus within the Iraq and Afghanistan veteran population were the result of a blast-induced mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI).
  • A recent Department of Defense study on Iraq service veterans conducted by the San Diego Naval Medical Center found that 70% of those exposed to an explosive blast reported tinnitus within the first 72 hours after the incident; 43% of those seen one month after the incident continued to report tinnitus.
  • 30 million workers are at risk for tinnitus from noise induced hearing loss (NIHL) from hazardous noise on the job.
  • The Centers for Disease Control report that nearly 13% of children ages 6-19 (5 million in the U.S.) already have some form of NIHL. This means they may also have tinnitus or they are at greater risk for developing tinnitus.
  • According to the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, 85 decibels for 8 hours is considered to be “safe,” meaning it is unlikely to do damage.

Sounds Levels and Exposure Limits

If you are exposed to sounds above 85 dBA…you need to protect your hearing with earplugs, earmuffs, or other ear protection

Dr. Li-Korotky is a Professional-level Gold member of the American Tinnitus Association. The Doctor is President of Pacific Northwest Audiology (www.pnwaudiology.com) in Bend OR, and provides a wide range of tinnitus evaluation and management services