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Tinnitus is defined as the sensation of hearing sound in your ears or head when no external sound is present. The sound is most often described as a ringing, buzzing or static noise. Approximately 10-15% of the population report having tinnitus on a regular basis.
Tinnitus can vary widely in impact and severity. When tinnitus starts to negatively affect one’s day to day functioning, it is necessary to seek medical attention. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition. Most often the cause is hearing damage as 90% of people who suffer from tinnitus have hearing loss. A thorough hearing assessment by an audiologist is therefore recommended for anyone who has tinnitus, especially if the tinnitus is persistent, only heard in one ear, accompanied by balance problems or is affecting your lifestyle.
Hearing loss or hearing damage is considered to be the most common cause of tinnitus. When there is damage to the cells and nerve fibers of your hearing system, the part of the brain which is normally stimulated by this type of sound is no longer receiving this stimulation. It can overcompensate by creating a sound that is actually not present – almost like phantom limb syndrome when someone has lost a limb but can still feel it at times.
- Tinnitus Maskers – Wearable devices that generate noise around the region or pitch of sound where the client reports tinnitus to be heard. These devices have a volume control that allow the user to fully or partially mask the tinnitus.
- Sound Generators – These can include low level noise household items such as fans or humidifiers which are often great for bed time as they don’t grab your attention. Other people prefer turning on the radio, television or bedside sound generators (with soothing sounds such as waves crashing, forest sounds or rain falling).
- Hearing Aids – For those who experience hearing loss in addition to tinnitus, properly fit hearing aids are effective in lowering their perception of tinnitus over 60% of the time. Amplification from hearing aids can mask or partially mask the tinnitus by reducing the contrast between the tinnitus and the environment.
- Combination Devices – These are instruments that work as hearing aids as well as sound generators to provide an acoustic signal that will act as sound therapy for the tinnitus. These devices have been proven to improve relaxation and concentration. The choice of sounds could be static noise, oceans waves or soothing music.
- Relaxation Exercises such as deep breathing and visualization are often recommended for more severe or bothersome tinnitus.
It is very important to continue wearing hearing protection when exposed to hazardous levels of noise that could potentially cause further damage to your hearing and make the tinnitus worse. Use hearing protection when using equipment which is loud enough that you need to shout to have a conversation with someone close by. Also watch that your earphones are at a reasonable volume and limit the length of time you expose your ears to loud sounds.
Dr. Sweetow addressing people with tinnitus
Dr. Robert Sweetow – Talking about tinnitus and hearing loss
Dr. Robert Sweetow – Tinnitus, talking about evidence