ProvidersAllison King, AuD, CCC-A, FAAA
Tinnitus is the perception of a sound that has no external source. Some of the more common sounds reported are: ringing, humming, buzzing, and cricket-like chirps. It may often occur with hearing loss.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease itself, so it can have a number of causes. It is most often caused by hearing loss, specifically damage to the inner ear. Hearing loss is often due to aging or loud noise exposure. It can also be caused by thyroid problems, blood circulation problems, head or neck injuries, and some medications.
In addition to hearing loss, the condition can be a sign of ear-related problems such as wax buildup or ear infections, or even a benign tumor on the auditory nerve.
About 50 million Americans are estimated to have tinnitus, and more than 13 million Americans report having it without hearing loss. Of those with the condition, almost 40 percent experience it during 80 percent of their day. While most people are able to manage it or ignore it, in some cases it can become debilitating. Approximately 1 in 4 sufferers report it as loud, while 1 in 5 report it as disabling or nearly disabling.
Insomnia has been linked to tinnitus, and is known to make it worse. The negative effects of insomnia can lower people’s tolerance to the condition. Conversely, treating insomnia can increase people’s tolerance to that ringing in their ears.
Studies indicate, however, that it doesn’t actually wake people, and sleeping is in fact seen as a relief by some people. However, those who don’t sleep well might worry about the condition more, and worrying about it might actually be the cause of the problem.
Tinnitus has also been linked to declining mental health. An estimated two million people have it so severe they have reported depression, anxiety, anger, post-traumatic stress disorder, insomnia, and even thoughts of suicide. It is very important patients seek help with a mental health professional for their mental health as well as audiology treatment for the condition.
The best way to prevent it is to avoid exposure to loud noises and to use protective hearing devices, such as earplugs or earmuffs.
Stress management and overall wellness measures can also reduce the factors that contribute to tinnitus. Studies have shown a correlation between people’s stress levels and tinnitus. It often worsens when people are stressed, so lowering their stress levels can also lower those noise levels.
CEENTA has audiologists in locations across North and South Carolina skilled in treating this condition. While there is no cure, there are fortunately some treatment options. Sound therapy, such as white noise or nature sound machines, has been beneficial in alleviating the condition by helping sufferers to avoid silence. Hearing aids can treat the hearing loss often associated with it. The audiologists at CEENTA also fit devices that use built-in sound generators to provide pleasant sound to the auditory cortex that disrupts the awareness of the signal in the brain.