Tinnitus FAQ's

What is tinnitus?

Do you hear a ringing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound in your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Does the sound bother you a lot? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have tinnitus (tin-NY-tus).

Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. According to estimates by the American Tinnitus Association, at least 12 million Americans have tinnitus. Of these, at least 1 million experience it so severely that it interferes with their daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.

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What causes tinnitus?

  • Hearing loss. Doctors and scientists have discovered that people with different kinds of hearing loss also have tinnitus.
  • Loud noise. Too much exposure to loud noise can cause noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus.
  • Medicine. More than 200 medicines can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and you take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine could be involved.
  • Other health problems. Allergies, tumors, and problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaws, and neck can cause tinnitus.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

The most important thing you can do is to go see your doctor. Your doctor can try to determine what is causing your tinnitus. He or she can check to see if it is related to blood pressure, kidney function, diet, or allergies. Your doctor can also determine whether your tinnitus is related to any medicine you are taking.

To learn more about what is causing your tinnitus, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (aw-dee-AH-luh-jist) who can measure your hearing. If you need a hearing aid, an audiologist can fit you with one that meets your needs.

How will hearing experts treat my tinnitus?

Although there is no cure for tinnitus, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find the ones that help.

Treatments can include

  • Hearing aids. Many people with tinnitus also have a hearing loss. Wearing a hearing aid makes it easier for some people to hear the sounds they need to hear by making them louder. The better you hear other people talking or the music you like, the less you notice your tinnitus.
  • Maskers. Maskers are small electronic devices that use sound to make tinnitus less noticeable. Maskers do not make tinnitus go away, but they make the ringing or roaring seem softer. For some people, maskers hide their tinnitus so well that they can barely hear it.
  • Some people sleep better when they use maskers. Listening to static at a low volume on the radio or using bedside maskers can help. These are devices you can put by your bed instead of behind your ear. They can help you ignore your tinnitus and fall asleep.
  • Medicine or drug therapy. Some medicines may ease tinnitus. If your doctor prescribes medicine to treat your tinnitus, he or she can tell you whether the medicine has any side effects.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy. This treatment uses a combination of counseling and maskers. Otolaryngologists and audiologists help you learn how to deal with your tinnitus better. You may also use maskers to make your tinnitus less noticeable. After a while, some people learn how to avoid thinking about their tinnitus. It takes time for this treatment to work, but it can be very helpful.
  • Counseling. People with tinnitus may become depressed. Talking with a counselor or people in tinnitus support groups may be helpful.
  • Relaxing. Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus seem worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)

Successful tinnitus management in our clinic is a result of retraining and relearning. Once the tinnitus loses its sinister meaning, however loud it has been, or however unpleasant it may seem, it DOES begin to diminish, and in many cases may not be heard for long periods of time. In some cases firmly held beliefs are hard to alter, particularly where there is a conviction that tinnitus is only related to ear damage which cannot be fixed. Retraining the subconscious auditory system to accept tinnitus as something that occurs naturally, does not spell a lifetime of torture and despair, and is not a threat or a warning signal, can take months and occasionally even years. Ideally, retraining should be guided by professionals with experience in this field, forming part of a multi-disciplinary team. However many people can be helped by understanding the Jastreboff model and applying the principles of retraining as described here. For people who also have co-existing or pre-existing anxiety or depression, it can take longer to change their feelings about their tinnitus.

When we talk about TRT (Tinnitus Retraining Therpay), this is not simply an abstract learning exercise. In the subconscious part of the brain concerned with hearing, beyond the inner ear, (but before conscious perception of sound takes place), subconscious filters,or networks of nerve cells (neuronal networks) are programmed to pick up signals on a 'need to hear' basis. Think again of the way we invariably detect the sound of our own name, or a distant car horn, or a new baby stirring in sleep, whereas we may be unaware of the sound of rain pounding on the roof or surf beating on a sea shore. Retraining therapy involves reprogramming or resetting these networks which are selectively picking up 'music of the brain' in the auditory system.

Tinnitus retraining first involves learning about what is actually causing the tinnitus. As a result of this and other therapy including sound therapy, the strength of the REACTION against tinnitus gradually reduces. This reaction controls the setting of subconscious filters which are constantly looking for threats. With strong reactions, the filters are constantly monitoring tinnitus, but without a reaction, habituation occurs, as it does to every meaningless sound that is constantly present. Firstly the disappearance of the reaction means that sufferers no longer feel bad, or distracted, and normal life activities can be resumed – sleep, recreation and work, as before. Secondly as the auditory filters are no longer monitoring the tinnitus it is heard less often and less loud. As a result it can finally become a friend instead of an enemy. Think, now, how much of this treatment depends on being able to believe that tinnitus results from normal compensatory changes in the hearing mechanism, rather than irreversible ear damage.

Dr. Cunningham is one of the few qualified local experts on Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. If you believe you may be affected by tinnitus, please call (818) 341 5407 for a no obligation consultation.