What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears, is a very common symptom affecting an estimated 50 million Americans. Though it is most often described as a ringing, it can also manifest as other ongoing sounds such as buzzing, whooshing, clicking, sizzling, chirping and hissing.
Tinnitus most often develops with age and can occur intermittently or constantly. In some cases, a patient’s symptoms are mild and don’t cause too much of a distraction. Other times, though, tinnitus can be a serious or debilitating problem.
Tinnitus is considered a symptom rather than a condition. There is no cure for tinnitus itself, although sometimes it can be relived by treating the underlying condition causing the problem. It has many known causes including head or neck trauma, loud noise exposure, ototoxic medication, chronic ear infections and a blockage in the ear canal. In some cases, the exact cause of a patient’s tinnitus may be unknown.
This cause and effect of tinnitus differs from patient to patient, and there’s no one treatment option that’s right for everyone. Before you can consider a treatment plan, you’ll need to see an audiologist for an assessment.
If the underlying cause of a patient’s tinnitus is identified, treating that condition may relieve symptoms. In many cases, though, treatment plans focus on symptom management through various therapies. Some of the most popular treatments include:
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) is a relatively new approach to tinnitus treatment that has proven highly effective for many patients. It combines several treatment approaches into one comprehensive therapy program in order to reduce or eliminate the effects of tinnitus. TRT involves counseling, sound enrichment techniques and brain retraining exercises. With patient commitment and the help of an experienced tinnitus care professional, TRT is a great approach to help those with problematic tinnitus symptoms regain control over their hearing.
- Sound Therapy is an individualized treatment technique that uses sound to change your brain’s focus away from the noises of tinnitus. While some patients find success in simply masking their tinnitus with noise machines or basic household appliances like fans or air conditioners, there is also a lot of specialized sound therapy equipment available that aims to actually train your brain away from hearing the ringing sounds. In order to develop the right sound therapy program for you, your audiologist will first have to perform a tinnitus assessment in order to identify the frequency and volume of your individual symptoms.
- Specialized Hearing Aids are available in several hearing aid styles that specifically aim to treat tinnitus symptoms. These devices can be programmed to generate soothing sounds in the range of frequencies affected by a patient’s tinnitus, which effectively masks the problematic ringing. They can also be programmed to treat a hearing loss, which is an important feature since a majority of those with tinnitus also have impaired hearing.