Tinnitus is the medical term used to describe ringing in the ears. It is a complex condition that presents differently in each person and has no known cure. However, there are options available to help manage the condition. In order to determine which treatment option is best, an audiologist will first look to understand the cause.
Tinnitus is often diagnosed by describing the symptoms alone. While tinnitus is often referred to as just ringing in the years, it can actually have many sounds. These sounds are typically only internal meaning only the person experiencing tinnitus can hear it, however there are cases where someone else might hear it as well.
These internal sounds can be one-sided or bilateral, occurring in both ears. They can also be constant or intermittent, coming and going without warning. Some of the commonly reported symptoms include: ringing (high pitched or low pitched), clicking, humming, or pulsing. The pulsing symptom is the sound that can sometimes be heard by others.
Once you have discussed your symptoms with a hearing health provider, they will likely want to review your past medical and occupational history because there are many possible causes. For example, some medications or diseases many lead to tinnitus.
Following your discussion, your provider will likely request a hearing test. For the hearing test, you will sit in a soundproof room with headphones. Through the headphones beeps of various volumes and pitches will play in each ear, a clicker in your hand will be used to identify which you are able to hear.
In addition to the hearing test, your provider may also request labs or scans such as a CT scan or MRI to rule out any other underlying conditions.
Treatment for Tinnitus
With a cause indicated by your provider, treatment options will now be considered. As mentioned, there is no cure for tinnitus, however it is possible to minimize symptoms until they become less noticeable.
If the cause was determined to be an underlying condition such as one impacting your blood vessels then the treatment would be to manage that condition first. Furthermore, there are medications that are considered ototoxic. Ototoxic, literally translated to ear poisoning, can cause both tinnitus and hearing loss. It is sometimes possible to reverse these side effects by changing the dose or medication. Any changes to your medications should only be done with your doctor’s supervision.
Because tinnitus often occurs with hearing loss, treating the hearing loss may be the best course of action. There are two primary options for hearing loss treatment: hearing aids and cochlear implants.
Hearing aids are more common and work by amplifying sound. Using the hearing test, hearing aids can be programmed to only amplify the exact pitches each individual needs to the exact volume. If there is a frequency or pitch that the user hears normally, the hearing aids wouldn’t amplify that sound. Hearing aids are small, external pieces of technology that have many added features such as Bluetooth.
Cochlear implants are used for profound hearing loss and work differently than hearing aids. They are small surgically implanted devices that stimulate the auditory nerve to produce input that the user can then recognize as sound.
Living with Tinnitus
In addition to the treatment options provided above, there are steps you can take to minimize the discomfort caused by tinnitus. Below are just some of the available options.
- White noise machines are sometimes used to by those with tinnitus to drown out the ringing. They are used mostly to sleep at night producing everything from static noise to the sound of the ocean or rainfall.
- Behavioral counseling has been used to help retrain how you respond to and think about tinnitus. Examples of this type of counseling are below.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)- TRT typically involves wearing a small device in the ear that produces white noise along with directive counseling by an audiologist or trained professional.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- CBT is offered by licensed mental health professionals to learn coping and management techniques that can be directed specifically towards living with tinnitus.
If you or someone you love is experiencing symptoms of tinnitus, make an appointment with an audiologist today.