Tinnitus is the perception of sounds that have no external source. The severity of tinnitus varies from an occasional awareness of a noise (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 “phantom sound” or a single disease, but a symptom that can be associated with many causes and made worse by other factors.
Tinnitus is relatively common, but in rare cases it can be a symptom of serious underlying disease such as vascular tumor or acoustic neuroma (a benign, usually slow-growing tumor that develops on the balance and hearing nerves supplying the inner ear).
Tinnitus facts: If you have tinnitus you’re not alone. More than 50 million Americans show signs of tinnitus. Tinnitus can’t be cured, but we have state-of-the-science Tinnitus programs, and our expert Doctors know their stuff!
The two videos (below) include Spotlight on Tinnitus, produced by the American Tinnitus Association (left), and Tinnitus Cure? No, but you do have options (right), produced by Dr. Clifford Olson, Applied Hearing Solutions in Anthem, Arizona.
First, let's dispel the the most repeated myth about Tinnitus. The primary form of tinnitus originates in your brain. That's right, Tinnitus is a brain response, usually due to hearing loss! In effect, the brain over stimulates neurons that expect missing frequencies due to hearing loss. But the process leading to Tinnitus can begin anywhere along the auditory pathway. Referencing the figure (above), Tinnitus origination points include the middle ear (A), where sounds are amplified by 3 tiny bones; the inner ear (B), where the Cochlea sorts the sounds by frequency; the auditory nerve (C), where the signal is passed from the Cochlea to the brain; and the Auditory Cortex (D), where the sound is recognized and processed.
It is interesting to note that brain scans show increased metabolic activity in the left Auditory Cortex (D) of tinnitus patients. More often than not, Tinnitus is caused by damaged sensory hair cells in the inner ear due to noise exposure.
Tinnitus is usually caused by noise exposure from hazardous levels of industrial, recreational, or military noise. Loud noise damages the hearing system by destroying the sensory hair cells of the inner ear (see the figure, above). Our brains expect a full frequency response to sound. When frequencies are missing due to noise damage, our brains tend to create the sounds we experience as Tinnitus.
Other conditions linked to tinnitus include ear injuries, cardiovascular disease, age-related hearing loss, wax build-up in the ear canal, medications (aspirin, certain antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy), ear or sinus infections, misaligned jaw joints (TMJ), head and neck trauma, and Meniere’s disease.
What are the life consequences? Lifestyle injuries caused by tinnitus fit into 4 broad groups, including thoughts & emotions, hearing, sleep, and concentration. The degree to which tinnitus invades a person’s life depends on the volume, frequency, and duration of the perceived noise, and on the reaction provoked by that irritation.
Negative lifestyle effects include fatigue, stress, sleep difficulties, trouble concentrating, memory problems, anxiety and irritability, and trouble with both work and family life. The fear and depression associated with tinnitus can destroy a person’s well being, but as we indicated earlier, Tinnitus can be managed. We are confident we can give you back your life. I know…I have had raging Tinnitus since my Army days in the late 60s, but most of the time I don’t realize I have Tinnitus! It can be managed, and we can help, so don’t suffer needlessly.
Here’s how: Our Doctors of Audiology will assess the effects of your symptoms, and then present options for alleviating those symptoms. The assessment takes up to 2 hours and includes the following:
The goal of tinnitus management is to “train your brain” to conclude that tinnitus is not important and should be ignored. This process is called habituation, and allows tinnitus patients to overlook the disturbing effects of tinnitus, the same way that many of us have learned to overlook the disturbing effects of a train whistle at night. The ultimate goal is to gain control over your tinnitus.
Tinnitus therapy is highly personalized to account for an individual’s perception of their symptoms. There is no “one size fits all” therapy! Effective treatment strategies generally focus on counseling, sound therapy, relaxation, and stress-reduction methods. If you have tinnitus AND hearing loss, hearing aids may improve your hearing AND relieve your tinnitus, because better hearing will make it easier to ignore your tinnitus.