If you’ve been hearing a ringing or other persistent sounds in your ears that don’t go away, you may have developed tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a common condition that causes a noise heard in the head or ears. It affects people differently and can be described as low-pitched, high-pitched, constant, or intermittent. It can come across as ringing, roaring, buzzing, whistling, or humming. It can also be permanent or temporary.
What causes tinnitus?
There are several factors that can cause tinnitus, the leading being exposure to loud noise that you might hear at concerts, or gunfire. Other things that can trigger the condition are age-related hearing loss, some medications, and head and neck injuries. Stress and anxiety can even cause tinnitus.
How do you prevent tinnitus?
You can’t always prevent tinnitus, especially if it is caused by infection or stress. However, tinnitus caused by loud noises can be prevented by wearing proper hearing protection devices.
At the Jacksonville Speech & Hearing Center, we can provide you with custom-made hearing protection that will provide you with maximum comfort while reducing your risk of noise-induced tinnitus. To learn more about custom hearing protection, click here.
Treatments for Tinnitus
Unfortunately, there is not a cure for tinnitus. However, several treatment options can help improve your quality of life while living with tinnitus. By scheduling an appointment with one our audiologists, we’ll be able to determine what treatment plan will work best for your individual needs.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) is not a cure, but rather a management program. This treatment works by helping to lessen the your perception of the noise. Our brains are extremely adaptive organs, so TRT uses your brain’s natural ability to “habituate” the sound of your tinnitus until you’re no longer able to notice it—similar to how you may initially notice the sound of raindrops falling on a roof when it first starts raining, but are gradually able to ignore the sound.
The first step in receiving TRT is to meet with your audiologist and discuss the details about your tinnitus. They will ask you a variety of questions, including extensive details about your medical history and daily living habits.
If following this appointment your audiologist believes that TRT is the best option, they will give you a device to wear behind the ear. The device will be programmed to generate a neutral noise that will divert your attention from the tinnitus. This process will be combined with therapy designed to teach you how to ignore the sounds of your tinnitus.
Another treatment option involves treating the root cause of the tinnitus. When tinnitus is the result of hearing loss, many individuals find significant relief from it by simply treating the hearing loss with hearing aids.
In many cases, hearing aids can augment the volume of external noise to the point that it masks the sound of tinnitus. This difference can help your brain focus on outside, ambient noises while blending your tinnitus into the background.
Sound therapy works by making the perception of the tinnitus less noticeable compared to background sound that is delivered through a sound therapy device. Although tinnitus is a non-auditory internal sound, using external sound can make a major difference in counteracting a patient’s negative reaction to tinnitus.
There are various devices that can be customized to play generic background noise that can partially or fully mask a patient’s perception of tinnitus. The kind of device you use to mask the tinnitus will vary based on your specific symptoms. Most patients find the use of background sound very helpful when used in combination with Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT).
Hyperacusis is a decreased tolerance to everyday sounds such as water running from a faucet, the buzzing of a kitchen appliance like a refrigerator, a car engine, or a loud conversation. Patients with hyperacusis often find certain sounds unpleasantly loud and/or painful, even if those around them don’t seem to notice them.
The majority of patients with hyperacusis also experience tinnitus. However, in some cases, hyperacusis can occur on its own.
What Causes Hyperacusis?
Our ears detect sounds as vibrations. However, when a patient has hyperacusis, their brain will confuse or exaggerate certain sounds—creating discomfort. Patients are not typically born with hyperacusis, and the condition can be caused by a number of factors.
The most common cause of hyperacusis is damage to the cochlea from exposure to loud noises such as those heard at industrial workplaces, concerts, or fireworks. Hyperacusis can also occur as a result of a disease or health issue such as a head injury, tinnitus, acoustic trauma, adverse reactions to medicine/surgery, chronic ear infection, or an autoimmune disorder.
Treatments for Hyperacusis
Although it may be tempting for patients with hyperacusis to wear hearing protection, this practice can actually be counterproductive to their hearing health in environments where the sound level is safe. Avoiding normal-level sounds in such environments can make you dependent on hearing protection and make your ears even more sensitive to those sounds when the protection is not used, worsening your hyperacusis.
If you have, or believe you have hyperacusis, the best thing you can do is schedule an appointment with a licensed medical professional like an audiologist. Our audiologists will be able to identify the best treatment options for your specific symptoms and work to improve your quality of life.
Common treatments for hyperacusis include sound therapy (where audiologists use generic background noise to counteract your negative reaction to everyday sounds), and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (where you will receive a sound device programmed to generate a neutral noise that diverts your attention from the noise).