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.
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.