What’s that ringing in my ears?

A Beginner’s Guide to Tinnitus

This article is a general introduction to tinnitus. It will give you a better understanding of the causes of tinnitus and what it is exactly. You will be advised of methods you can try to stop or suppress it. Please note that tinnitus can be incurable and, for some sufferers, an irritating but irreversible, unfortunate fact of life.

Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom of underlying issues elsewhere within the body – for example, the ear, brain, blood vessels or the heart. The American Academy of Audiology refers to tinnitus as “the perception of sound in the ear that is not the result of an external sound”. It is commonly described as a “hissing, roaring, or ringing” in the ear. It can be high pitched or low pitched, tonal or noise-like, and constant, pulsed, or intermittent. You may experience tinnitus in one ear, both ears, or in your head. In layman’s terms, subjective tinnitus (the most common form) is a noise in your ear or in your head that you can hear but that is not coming from the outside. That doesn’t mean that it is in your mind or that you are imagining things! Tinnitus can last anywhere from a couple of seconds to a lifetime.

Causes of Tinnitus

There are two types of tinnitus: Subjective and Objective. There are different causes depending on the type you have. Subjective tinnitus is the more common of the two. It can only be heard by you and it is normally associated with hearing loss. It may be caused by some of the following:

  • Ear infections
  • Impacted ear wax
  • Hearing loss due to old age or noise exposure
  • Ototoxic medication
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Head trauma
  • Otosclerosis (abnormal remodelling of bone in the middle ear)
  • Acoustic neuromas (benign brain tumour which grows on the hearing and balance nerve)

Objective tinnitus, on the other hand, can be heard by someone else but it is much rarer than subjective tinnitus. Your GP or Audiologist may be able to hear the tinnitus with the use of a stethoscope. These noises are produced by the workings of the body. Objective tinnitus is sometimes curable, whereas subjective tinnitus is often not. Objective tinnitus may be caused by some of the following sounds:

  • Blood flowing through vessels in or near the ear
  • Jaw joint not working correctly
  • Eustachian tube opening and closing when you yawn or swallow
  • Joints in your neck creaking

Most causes of tinnitus are not harmful and the symptom is most commonly associated with old age. In older people, tinnitus is often caused by natural hearing loss (presbyacusis) which lessens the sensitivity of the hearing nerves. However, tinnitus is starting to affect a growing number of younger people as a result of the general increase in noise levels in today’s society.

Who Can Help Me?

If you are a tinnitus sufferer, you will have to visit your Doctor or Audiologist to get diagnosed. Depending on the onset, severity, and location of the tinnitus, your Doctor or Audiologist may refer you for further investigation. The Hearing Health Foundation states that “ringing in the ears (tinnitus) affects 20% of Americans, and hearing loss occurs in 90% percent of those cases”.

What Can I Do To Rid Myself Of My Tinnitus or Suppress It?

In most cases, tinnitus cannot be cured. However, it can be managed. There are treatments that are found to help to suppress tinnitus depending on the patient. Four of these treatments are outlined below.

  1. Hearing Aids

Some patients use hearing aids to reduce the severity of their tinnitus. Hearing loss is very common in tinnitus sufferers and, as such, hearing aids are effective because they can be used to mask the various different types of tinnitus sounds while simultaneously helping to counter act your hearing loss (if a loss is present).

  1. Sound Therapy

Tinnitus is much more noticeable in quiet environments due to the lack of background noise. Sound therapy masks the tinnitus with another sound source (eg. sound generators or certain types of hearing aids) which can distract you from your tinnitus.

  1. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a one on one counselling session or talking type therapy. It will help you to change your negative perceptions about your tinnitus into positive and realistic perceptions allowing you to function well and go about your life.This method reduces your stress levels which subsequently can lessen the severity of your tinnitus as tinnitus itself can also be caused by stress and not rooted in a hearing loss.

  1. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)

TRT is one of the newer forms of tinnitus therapy. It can be described as a process that teaches you how to cope with your tinnitus on both a conscious and sub conscious level. It combines all three of the methods outlined above to help ease your suffering. Today, tinnitus is a highly topical area of conversation due to the sheer volume of people whose lives it effects. If you think you are a tinnitus sufferer and have not sought medical advice I would recommend that you do so as soon as possible.

The Walker Hearing Clinic office number is 021-494-1375 and we would be happy to help you. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any tinnitus or hearing related queries, questions or concerns.