Tinnitus FAQs

What is tinnitus?

Many people are curious about what is tinnitus, how they get it, and what causes tinnitus? Tinnitus is the perception of sound where no external source is present – those who are affected often describe tinnitus as ringing, hissing, roaring, buzzing or whooshing, perceived in one or both ears. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant and made worse by triggers such as stress and lack of sleep.

How common is tinnitus?

Nearly 50 million Americans experience tinnitus; 10-12 million have tinnitus chronically and seek medical attention for their condition; 1-2 million Americans are debilitated by their tinnitus – cognitive abilities are compromised and quality of life is ruthlessly reduced from their tinnitus.

In 2001, The Centers of Disease Control (CDC) reported that nearly 13% of children between the ages of 6-19 have some form of noise induced hearing loss which can cause and/or lead to tinnitus.

In 2007, a study of 900 musicians found that at least 60% report occasional tinnitus.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

The first step is to schedule a consultation with one of our audiologists. A careful history and audiometric testing will lead to the most likely cause, such as hearing loss from loud noises, and best treatment options for your tinnitus. If medically necessary, we may refer you to another physician to complete the diagnosis.

What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus can originate from several different sources – ranging anywhere from loud noises to various medications.

  • Wax build-up : Wax build-up in the ear is one of the potential causes of tinnitus. Too much wax in the ear canal may diminish your ability to hear. This may cause the auditory system to overcompensate and create stimulation (noises) that does not exist – tinnitus.
  • Stress : Physical and/or emotional stress can act as a catalyst for the onset or worsening of tinnitus.
  • Loud noise : Another cause of tinnitus is exposure to loud sounds, which can cause damage and even destroy hair cells, called cilia, in the inner ear. Once damaged, these hair cells cannot be renewed or replaced and may result in permanent hearing loss. Continued exposure to loud noises can make the tinnitus and hearing loss worse.
  • Certain disorders : Disorders such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and thoracic outlet syndrome can be causes of tinnitus.
  • Hearing loss : Many people who have tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss.
  • Ototoxicity : Some medications are ototoxic, or the medications are harmful and damaging to the ear. Other medications produce tinnitus as a side effect without damaging the inner ear. Effects, depending on the dosage of the medication, can be temporary or permanent. Before taking any medication, let your prescribing physician know about your tinnitus and discuss alternative medications that may be available.
  • Other causes of tinnitus: Allergies, acoustic neuromas, problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaw misalignment, and head or neck trauma can cause tinnitus.

Will my tinnitus go away on its own?

In many cases, tinnitus dissipates on its own regardless of the cause. If it continues for more than a couple of weeks and negatively affects your quality of life, a trained audiologist can use different treatment protocols to resolve it. Tinnitus that gets louder over time is likely indicative of progressive hearing loss.

What is Meniere’s disease?

Just like how many people are curious about what is tinnitus, Meniere’s disease is something of a mystery to many people. Meniere’s is a disorder of the inner ear that usually affects hearing and balance and can cause debilitating vertigo and tinnitus. It can sometimes cause a feeling of fullness or pressure in your ear. In many cases, Meniere’s disease affects only one ear. People in their 40’s and 50’s are more likely than other age groups to develop Meniere’s disease, but it can occur in anyone, even children. While Meniere’s is considered a chronic condition, various treatment strategies can help relieve symptoms and minimize the disease’s long-term impact.

Why doesn’t the tinnitus go away for some people?

For individuals with long-term tinnitus, one or more of the causes of tinnitus like hearing loss from loud noise exposure leads to an auditory malfunction. The brain’s attempt to compensate for this malfunction is the start of a vicious cycle that ends in tinnitus.

Do any over-the-counter tinnitus treatments work?

No. Herbal remedies, including Lipoflavinoids – have not been proven to work. Essentially, they are just multi-vitamins. When taken, they may or may not coincide with an individual’s natural relief from tinnitus.

What is an audiologist?

Audiologists are health-care professionals specializing in identifying, diagnosing, treating, and monitoring disorders of the auditory and vestibular system portions of the ear. They are trained to diagnose, manage and/or treat tinnitus, hyperacusis, hearing, or balance problems. They dispense, manage, and rehabilitate hearing device users and assess candidacy and map cochlear implants.

Audiologists have training in anatomy and physiology, hearing devises, cochlear implants, electrophysiology, acoustics, psychophysics, neurology, vestibular function and assessment, balance disorders, counseling, and sign language. An Audiologist usually graduates with one of the following qualifications (Au.D., STI, PhD, or ScD), depending the program, and country attended.

Are the audiologists at Sound Relief M.D.s?

No. Our audiologists are all Doctors of Audiology that specialize in non-surgical options for treating tinnitus, hyperacusis, and hearing loss. If you do need an M.D., we will refer you to the best one for what you need. Most people with tinnitus do not need an M.D. because it is not something that can be fixed with medication or surgery.

What is the difference between maskers and sound therapy?

Maskers for tinnitus generate white noise and cover-up or “mask” the problem. Although maskers may provide short-term relief, they are not used with Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) since they only cover-up the tinnitus. Maskers are more like a band-aid, whereas sound generators used in TRT produce a customized, low-level sound that is soothing to listen to daily. Sound generators have been proven effective in cortical (brain) reorganization to reduce tinnitus. Only a specialist that has been trained on the neurophysiologic model of tinnitus and TRT will be able to properly recommend and program the correct sound generator for each individual case of tinnitus.

What is the difference between subjective vs objective tinnitus?

Subjective tinnitus is the perception of sound without the presence of acoustic stimulus; it is the condition we describe in depth on our website and our literature.

Objective tinnitus, on the other hand, is a rare type of tinnitus that – in some cases – can be heard by others. It usually results from noise generated by structures in or near the ear, including an inner ear bone condition, a blood vessel problem, or muscle contractions.

Learn More: The Tinnitus Cycle | Sounds of Tinnitus | Treatment Options

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