Currently, there is no single known cause for tinnitus. Tinnitus can be spontaneous in nature or begin following an accident or injury, medical condition/illness, or stressful life event. Spontaneous tinnitus is classified as any sound that resolves itself within 90 days of onset. If the tinnitus continues beyond this period, it typically will not resolve on its own without intervention and you should seek management options from an audiologist.
Tinnitus also often occurs with other ear related symptoms. Current research has identified a link between hearing loss and tinnitus. This theory is based on the idea of sound deprivation to the brain caused by hearing loss, the brain responds by creating its own sound stimulation. The limbic system within the brain, which controls behavioral and emotional responses, then often creates a negative emotional reaction to the tinnitus. Individuals who have this negative reaction tend to fall within the moderate to severe category of tinnitus. The limbic system’s reaction is often what causes the tinnitus to be either non-bothersome or bothersome and the impact on daily activities of life. Understanding this link between tinnitus, hearing loss, and the connection to the limbic system allows trained audiologists to identify, diagnose, and manage the tinnitus.
What Should I Do If I Have Tinnitus?
If you have tinnitus, you should seek medical care from an audiologist who specializes in tinnitus. This may include certification in Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), American Tinnitus Association (ATA), or and the American Board of Audiology (ABA). The audiologist will complete a full diagnostic hearing and tinnitus evaluation to determine the severity of both. This evaluation will include a full diagnostic hearing evaluation and a subjective perception test of the individual’s tinnitus by matching pitch and loudness. A subjective questionnaire will also be used to help classify your tinnitus. This information will allow the audiologist to make best recommendations for treating the tinnitus, whether that be hearing aids or enriching their environment with sound.
What Are The Treatments For Tinnitus?
Currently, there is no evidence-based cure for tinnitus. There are currently many over the counter prescriptions or sound maskers advertised for treating tinnitus, but research shows no validity in using these products. Instead, current research supports using positive sounds, such as nature style sounds and/or fractal (non-pattern forming) sounds to enrich your environment with sound. Fractal tones are a type of sound that follows no pattern and allows our brain to actively listen to it and focus less on the tinnitus. You cannot habituate to fractal sounds.
There are many treatment paths to take for tinnitus, and it is important to work with your audiologist to find what is best for you. Hearing aids are a great first step for patients who have both tinnitus and hearing loss. Hearing aids also have additional tinnitus program capabilities, where fractal noise can be added for the patient to listen to in the background throughout their entire day. Newer technology also allows for streaming to the hearing aids; therefore, music and audio books can be used to provide relief from the tinnitus. Aside from the hearing aids, smartphone apps can be downloaded that are designed for patients with tinnitus. These apps provide sound enrichment, breathing exercises, and meditation guides to reduce bothersome effects of tinnitus. Other treatment plans can include finding daily activities that you enjoy that help raise your overall mood and reduce stress. This can include taking walks outside, watching a favorite television show, or getting lunch with a group of friends. The overall goal is to create a treatment plan that works for your lifestyle and tinnitus.
Can Hearing Aids Help With My Tinnitus?
Yes, hearing aids can help with tinnitus in a variety of forms. First, if you have a hearing loss accompanying your tinnitus, treatment for tinnitus begins with treating the root of the problem: hearing loss. Hearing aids give your brain full access to sounds that it has been deprived of for some period of time, depending on how long you have had hearing loss. With this consistent sound stimulation, the brain no longer has a need to create its own sound, or tinnitus. For some, simply wearing hearing aids can reduce or completely resolve their tinnitus. For other individuals though, more tools are needed to help treat the tinnitus. Hearing aids can include tinnitus programs to help provide extra sound stimulation to the brain for when the tinnitus becomes overwhelming or bothersome. These programs can be activated at any time and help the listener relax and focus on other pleasant sounds rather than their tinnitus.
How Can I Prevent Tinnitus?
You can’t specifically prevent tinnitus but there are some things you can do to help lessen your likelihood of auditory problems. You can lessen your risk factors by protecting your ears from excessive noise exposure. Excessive noise exposure leads to hearing loss but by wearing hearing protection and lessening your time spent when in noisy environments. Often, protecting your hearing will lessen your likelihood of having hearing loss and therefore hearing loss related tinnitus.
However, not all tinnitus is related to hearing loss which makes it difficult to completely prevent it from occurring. Sometimes tinnitus is related to an injury, such as a car accident, which we would avoid if we could! Or it’s related to an illness which, unfortunately, is not avoidable. So while we cannot totally prevent tinnitus from occurring, healthy hearing habits benefit your future listening situations beyond the presence of tinnitus!
How Is Tinnitus Affecting Your Life?
Tinnitus is not a one size fits all experience. For some people it impacts many areas of their lives and for others it doesn’t seem to have much of an impact. The most important thing to remember is that everyone has their own experience and it isn’t to be invalidated. If your tinnitus is non-bothersome, be thankful! If your tinnitus is bothersome, please reach out to a tinnitus trained audiologist and ask for their help! You don’t have to “just deal with it” there are great options for lessening your tinnitus awareness and the bothersome nature of your tinnitus.