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Do you or a loved one hear a ringing or noise in your ear that no one else can hear? If so, you are one of approximately 50 million people in the US who are affected by this noise, which we call tinnitus. Typically there is no cure for tinnitus. However, there are treatment options available to help reduce or completely mask the effect of the tinnitus.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is a the perception of a sound or ringing in the ear without an external noise presented. Tinnitus is a symptom that is often a secondary condition associated with many causes listed below. Tinnitus is often referred to as “ringing in the ear,” but can also described as a buzzing, humming, hissing, whistling, static noise, or clicking sound in the ear. It can be sporadic, or it can be constant. The perception of tinnitus varies from person to person in loudness, severity, and type.

Most common causes of tinnitus:

  • Hearing loss
  • Trauma to the head, neck or ear
  • Circulatory system disorders
  • Stress
  • Lack of sleep
  • Medications
  • Noise exposure
  • Earwax
  • Ear infections
  • Air pressure or fluid in the middle ear
  • TMJ
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Growth or laceration on cranial nerves

How is tinnitus tested?

Determining the cause of the tinnitus can sometimes be difficult. Your Audiologist will first perform a diagnostic auditory evaluation. Next your Audiologist will pinpoint the pitch, loudness, and perceived characteristics of the tinnitus through headphones in a soundproof booth. Once the Audiologist closely matches the perceived tinnitus a number of treatment options will be discussed.

Tinnitus Treatment

You may wonder how such a condition might be treated. With the constant and oppressive sound of ringing in the ears, it seems like a difficult condition to address, feeling as if the sound originates within one’s own brain. In fact, all sound in one sense does originate in one’s own brain. Although pressure in the form of sound waves presses against the sensitive membranes of the outer and middle ear, these pressure waves are not interpreted as “sound” until they are channeled to the brain through the auditory nervous system. Since all sound occurs in this manner, those who have ringing in their ears can have the condition addressed through a number of treatment options.

The American Tinnitus Association recommends a number of treatment options:

  • General Wellness Those who have ringing or buzzing in their ears can experience a wide range of symptoms along with the condition, and general wellness can go far to reduce the main effects. Diet, physical activity, social activity, recreational activity, hobbies, stress reduction, biofeedback, hypnotherapy, and hearing protection are all general wellness measures that can help reduce the sound of ringing, buzzing, or whirring in one’s ears.
  • Hearing Aids One of the exciting innovations of new hearing aid technology is the ability to generate a tone that can cancel out the sound of ringing in one’s ears. Particularly when the sound is repetitive and isolated to a single frequency range, hearing aids can generate a tone that creates a phase pattern with that tone, masking its sound. The result is the mental perception that the ringing in the ears is gone, even if, on some level, it is still there.
  • Sound and Behavioral Therapies – Other forms of sound masking devices are available, as well. In addition to hearing aids, other masking devices can modify sound. Notched-music devices play music that cancels out the annoying ringing tone in the ears. Sound and sleep apps can help, as well. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been successful in reducing the sound of ringing in one’s ears, as has Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.
  • TMJ Treatments – Oddly enough, a connection between a dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and ringing in the ears has been discovered. In these cases, a dental health professional can help relieve the experience of ringing in the ears by alleviating pressure or bite realignment.