Tinnitus treatment. Check what to do when you hear ringing in the ears

What is tinnitus?


A sudden ringing in the ears can be startling. And if it does not disappear, it can be confusing and sometimes even life changing. Tinnitus is not a condition, but rather a symptom which can result from many causes.

The tinnitus people experience, which they can only hear, is different for everyone. For some people, it is a ringing in the ears, but for others it may be a buzzing, a whistling, even a hissing, a roar, a cicada whine, a chirping or a squeal. It may appear in one ear, or both.

Sometimes it goes away; say, in the first few days after a loud concert. Sometimes it does not. And many people live with tinnitus until it becomes too severe to handle. Some live with it for upwards of a decade, slowly reshaping their daily life around a sound which won’t go away.

Tinnitus is more common than you might think – as many as 1 in 5 Americans are affected –and it can take many forms.

There are at least four types of tinnitus.

  • Acute tinnitus: This type is sudden and almost inexplicable. It is like a storm of noise, which blows through and passes. It may come and go. Generally, it lasts less than three months, and it is often treatable. 
  • Chronic tinnitus: As the name suggests, it is long-term. The condition worsens and steadily becomes a central part of your life. Generally, if it lasts longer than three months, it is considered chronic.
  • Subjective tinnitus: According to the American Tinnitus Association, this is head or ear noise that is perceivable only to the specific patient. It usually results from auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss – though many things can cause it. More than 99% of tinnitus cases are subjective.
  • Objective Tinnitus: This includes head or ear noises that are audible to other people. Your circulatory system (blood flow) and somatic movements (musculo-skeletal) produce the sounds. It is very rare; less than 1% of all cases generally. One example is the sound of a heartbeat powerful enough to reach the ear. (This is known as pulsatile tinnitus).
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Common tinnitus questions

Helping you better understand your affliction

What causes tinnitus?

Sound works by entering your ear canal as waves. These waves vibrate your ear drum; which in turn, moves three small bones, striking the cochlea. The snail-shaped cochlea is filled with fluid and small bundles of hair cells. As the fluid ripples, the bundles vibrate, releasing neurotransmitters. This creates an electrical signal in the auditory nerve cells, which travel to your brain, where it is then classified as information.*

Damaged hair bundles inside the cochlea will often cause tinnitus, but the effect can also result nearly anywhere along that path.

In fact, there are roughly 200 different health disorders which lead to tinnitus, according to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA).

Tinnitus can be related to a sudden explosion of sound or long-term hearing loss. It can be caused by affected nerves, hardening of bones in the ears, sinusitis, blows to the head, neck injuries, damage to the jaw, brain circulation and even hair cells and ear wax blockage.

Who can get tinnitus?

The U.S. Centers of Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public – over 50 million Americans – experience some form of tinnitus1. However, there are groups of individuals who are at higher risk for tinnitus.

According to the ATA, the prevalence of tinnitus grows as people get older, peaking for the age 60-69 cohort. The increase is probably due to both age-related hearing loss and accumulative noise-induced hearing loss2.

ATA also notes that men are more likely to suffer from tinnitus than women are. The largest at-risk group is men who work in loud industries, such as farm labor, factories and manufacturing, construction and the military.

Activities like hunting and motorsports are also considered high risk, as are musicians and frequent concertgoers.

Is tinnitus tied to hearing loss?

Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, but they often occur together and may be caused by the same things. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, an estimated 50 million Americans experience tinnitus; 90 %of those also have hearing loss..

What can tinnitus lead to?

Living with tinnitus can be frustrating. It can affect your work and even your career. It can disrupt your sleep. Activities like reading can become challenging. Tinnitus can also change your relationships – both to your general surroundings, as well as to those around you.

Tinnitus affects individuals on mental, cognitive and physical levels. It is often described as a burden and a handicap. The first things generally affected are thoughts and emotions, as well as the ability to concentrate and focus.

On a more practical level, some people with tinnitus struggle with activities typically done in silence – such as gardening, working in the garage and reading.
Tinnitus can also drive people away from public and group settings, increasing social isolation.

How does tinnitus affect those who do not have it?*

For people who have tinnitus, it can affect those around them, including friends, family and colleagues. This is because it can create strong emotional reactions, which can manifest in personal and work relationships.

How is tinnitus measured?

According to the ATA, tinnitus is typically measured using speech recognition testing, tests which assess the frequencies and volume of the tinnitus, as well as physical tests of the ears’ muscles, membranes and hair cells.

What are some tips for preventing tinnitus?

Simply put: Protect your ears. Loud noises are damaging, and prolonged noise exposure is even worse. Be sure to use hearing protection whenever possible. Your hearing care provider will be able to guide you on what hearing protection is best for your lifestyle. Don’t have a hearing care professional? Click here to find one.

Some digital applications use sound meters to gauge the volume of localized noise, and many are free to download. (Search for ‘sound meters’).

If you can’t avoid loud noises – like if you are a bartender in a noisy dance club, or a farmer using heavy equipment – it is important to take breaks. Enduring loud noise for two 30-minute segments, with a break, is better than 60 straight minutes. (And the more breaks the better!)

Stay away from speakers! At clubs and at concerts, at festivals, and at church events – wherever you are – the closer you are, the louder it will be, and the more damaging it will be.

Be careful with headphones and earbuds. If you like to turn up the volume loud enough to drown out external noise, you are probably at risk. And again, your ears like taking breaks. If you use headphones regularly, always take some time to let your ears rest.

Finally, tinnitus can be caused by ear infections. So, if you use earbuds (or earplugs and hearing aids) for long stretches, clean the devices regularly.

Unfortunately, tinnitus can’t always be prevented, so it is important not to put blame on yourself. There are several options available to help manage tinnitus, and help those affected live a normal life.


 

Tinnitus treatment steps

Where to start: hearing care professionals

 

How to manage tinnitus effectively

How to manage tinnitus effectively?

The most important thing to remember is that the earlier you address it, the better.
The first step in tinnitus treatment is to connect with a hearing care professional near you.
 

 

What to expect

A first visit to a tinnitus hearing care professional


In your first appointment with a hearing care professional, you can certainly expect a hearing test, as an initial step in tinnitus treatment. You might be surprised to find out that you could have a hearing loss. People who suffer from tinnitus usually have some degree of hearing loss, but it’s often very mild and barely noticeable.

From there, the steps provided to manage tinnitus may vary. Tinnitus has many forms and many causes, so there is not one standard procedure for diagnosis.

You will likely receive a questionnaire, followed by a tinnitus analysis. Any medications you take regularly may also affect tinnitus, so it is important to tell your hearing care provider what medications you are currently taking.

All this information will give the hearing care professional a better understanding of your social, mental and physical state. They will then explain the results of the tests to you.

Next you will learn what tools and technology are available to help you.



Find your tinnitus balance

Flexible solutions for relief & a better life

There are many tinnitus treatments. The most common include sound therapy, sound enhancement and sound enrichment.

Phonak Product Portfolio

Phonak product portfolio enables you and your hearing professional to build a plan around a sound therapy that matches your unique needs. This is essential to manage tinnitus effectively.

Although there are stigmas around hearing aids, technology has come a long way. From teens who do seemingly everything with earbuds in, to traffic laws which require drivers to wear headsets when talking on the phone – in-ear audio technology has never been more prevalent.

Phonak Product Portfolio
Phonak Product Portfolio

Noise generation is an important key - it balances out the ringing in your ears. And fortunately, thanks to modern technology, you can now collect, keep and customize an entire library of sounds, sound effects, and music.

Every Phonak digital hearing aid provides amplification, and includes a noise generator making them a combination device. Most devices include wireless functionality which also enables the option of sound therapy to be streamed from a Bluetooth device.

Phonak Lyric hearing aid is unique in that it is worn 24 hours a day, thus also providing continuous relief even while you sleep.3 Lyric hearing aid works by providing consistent amplification of sounds day and night so the ears always have additional sounds to focus on making the sound of your tinnitus less noticeable.

Lyric is ideally suited for those looking for a discreet solution, and not in need of a noise generator or streaming capabilities.

Generic Couple Crossing Street

It may in fact be helpful to think of Phonak hearing aids as a Swiss Army knife. Each is a multi-functional tool, which can help you accomplish many different tasks in an array of situations.

Now, which part of the tool is the best fit for your current needs? Which will help you manage your tinnitus most effectively?

Only you and your hearing care professional can decide.



Like a star in the daytime

Sound therapy & background noise blending


How can hearing aids be a solution to help with tinnitus?

The best way to overcome tinnitus is to shrink the ratio between the sounds you don’t want to hear, and the sounds you do want to hear.

To use an analogy: a brilliant star set against a dark background shines brightest. It is impossible to ignore. But the same star dropped into the light of a noon sky is quickly lost; it disappears into the glare.

This analogy is the core principle of sound therapy, a common element of tinnitus treatment. Effectively, by providing sounds tailored for tinnitus, the ringing in your ears can be ‘washed’ away.

When embraced long-term, sound therapy teaches your brain to reclassify what it hears.

Thus tinnitus, which once held center stage, is then pushed out into the audience where it disappears; as an unimportant, unnoticed sound in the background.

Once you understand your available options and decide what course is best for you, you and your loved ones – together with your hearing care professional – can begin treating your tinnitus.

Who to consult and what to expect

Where do I start?

Who to consult and what to expect

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Footnotes

*The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
1. Data derived from the 2011 - 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
2. Data is derived from Shargorodsky, Curhan, and Farwell’s 2010 analysis, Characteristics of Tinnitus among U.S. Adults, originally published in the American Journal of Medicine.
3. Power, D. (2018). Is Lyric an effective option for tinnitus? Investigating the benefits of a hearing aid that can be worn 24/7. Submitted for peer review publication.

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