Tinnitus Overview

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What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is characterized by hearing sounds in one or both ears when no external sound is present. Commonly referred to as “ringing of the ears”, this sound is often described as a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or whistling-like noise.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50 million people experience some degree of tinnitus and that 20 million deal with chronic tinnitus. Tinnitus can significantly impact daily life by preventing quality sleep, making it difficult to focus and complete tasks, and increasing irritability. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, 16 million people seek medical attention for tinnitus annually.

Tinnitus is not a medical condition in and of itself but is a symptom of an underlying condition. Numerous health conditions can cause tinnitus which is why it can be challenging to diagnose. But there are effective ways tinnitus can be managed, alleviating its impact and allowing people to hear and navigate communication with greater ease.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Many different health conditions can cause tinnitus. According to the American Tinnitus Association, an estimated 200 health issues can produce tinnitus as a symptom. Common causes include the following:
  • Hearing Loss

    As one of the most common causes of tinnitus, it is estimated that 90% of all tinnitus occurs with hearing loss. Hearing loss affects 48 million people, making it the third most pervasive chronic medical condition. Impaired hearing most commonly occurs as a result of damaged hair cells in the inner ear. These sensory cells convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals which are then carried to the brain to be further analyzed. This process allows us to understand what we hear. Hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate which means when they are damaged, this is permanent - resulting in incurable hearing loss.

  • Ear obstructions

    This refers to anything that physically blocks sound from being absorbed and traveling through the ear canal to reach the inner ear. Ear obstructions can include a buildup of earwax, accumulated dirt, bone growths, etc. which create physical blockages in the ear. This can enable bacteria to accumulate in the ears, leading to infection or irritation. Not only can this lead to hearing loss but it can also trigger tinnitus.

  • Meniere’s Disease

    An inner ear disorder, Meniere's disease is caused by an accumulation of fluid in the cochlea which is in the inner ear. This produces several symptoms including pressure in the ears, dizziness, and tinnitus.

Other causes of tinnitus include head/neck injuries, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), specific medical conditions like autoimmune disorders and hyperthyroidism in addition to some medications.
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Tinnitus Treatment

Tinnitus can be treated in a number of effective ways. A common treatment option is tinnitus sound therapy. This type of therapy uses a process known as habituation which focuses on retraining how the brain interprets tinnitus. The goal is to have the brain identify tinnitus sounds as neutral rather than bothersome which allows the brain to forget about the sound. 

There are different ways to carry out tinnitus sound therapy and your hearing healthcare provider can try various methods. One common strategy is to choose a calming or neutral sound and play it as background noise throughout the day. This can include rainfall, waves, white noise, soft music, etc. Over time, tinnitus becomes associated with this sound which neutralizes the tinnitus. Another way to put this is that it masks the tinnitus, alleviating it and the toll it often takes on daily life. 

Manhattan Audiology offers tinnitus treatment with the Levo System. Learn more about this innovative system here.

Learn more about the Levo System for tinnitus
The Levo System for Tinnitus

Treating Hearing Loss

In addition to tinnitus sound therapy, another treatment option is addressing hearing loss. This starts by having your hearing assessed which is especially important if you are experiencing tinnitus. Hearing tests involve a painless and straightforward process that measures hearing capacity in each ear. This identifies any hearing impairment which also establishes the underlying cause of the tinnitus one is dealing with. 

The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which help absorb and process sound. This provides the ears and brain with ample support that alleviates common hearing loss symptoms, including tinnitus. Today’s hearing aids are more advanced than ever, offering innovative technologies and features that do more than amplify sound. There are hearing aids that also offer tinnitus management features that are designed to emit sounds that mask tinnitus. 

To alleviate the experience of tinnitus, schedule a consultation with our team at Manhattan Audiology today.

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