Tinnitus is a condition in which people experience noises or ringing in their ears or head when there is no physical sound at present. Tinnitus is unique to the individual, which means the sound or noise they experience will vary from person to person. Some of the common sounds or noises reported include ringing, buzzing, whistling, roaring, and humming. Tinnitus can develop from many causes and can be a sign of a problem with the auditory system, like hearing loss.
Tinnitus is experienced by approximately 17% to 20% of the general population, and this varies in severity from mild to severe. The prevalence of tinnitus increases in people over the age of 55, to approximately 30%. The severity of tinnitus experienced by individuals varies; however, most individuals experience a mild form of tinnitus that is temporary though causing mild annoyance.
There are many causes of tinnitus, and it can occur for numerous reasons. Some of the common causes of tinnitus include exposure to loud noise such as shooting and listening to loud music extensively; some medications, chemicals, chemotherapy and other ototoxic drugs; an ear and/or hearing condition, such as Meniere’s disease; middle ear pathology such as middle ear infections and otosclerosis; stress, anxiety and/or trauma; undiagnosed underlying medical problem; or in some cases, it can be idiopathic (spontaneously occurring from an unknown cause).
So, what does tinnitus or ringing sounds mean for you?
As discussed earlier, every individual experiences a different form of tinnitus or ringing and it is unique to every person. Therefore, it is important to speak to your medical practitioner and accredited audiologist should you experience any forms of tinnitus or ringing. In view of the numerous causes, tinnitus or ringing may have occurred for a number of reasons and it is important that certain conditions can be ruled to ensure there are no pressing issues.
Are you frequently exposed to loud noises? This is damaging to your hearing and can cause long-term or permanent damage over time. Consider getting custom ear plugs to reduce the volume of your surroundings and preserve your hearing well into the future.
There is a strong association between tinnitus and hearing loss, as it is often impacted by loud noise exposure on the hair cells in the cochlea. “Sensorineural” hearing loss refers to the permanent damage caused to the hair cells of the cochlea, which are what allows us to hear. They can be damaged by a number of factors, including loud noise exposure, aging (presbycusis), ototoxic drugs (as mentioned previously), and many other factors. When the hair cells are damaged, this means the auditory circuit to the brain does not receive the auditory signals they would normally receive in a healthy system. This can then have an effect on the neurons, where they produce abnormal activity, resulting in a subjective ringing or noise, known as tinnitus.
In simpler terms, the brain’s ability to hear sounds is diminished when there is a hearing loss present, and this in turn can trigger tinnitus to occur. If the tinnitus you experience is a result of hearing loss, it should be appropriately investigated through a comprehensive audiological assessment to determine the nature and severity of the hearing loss. This can help you understand the tinnitus you experience, and can help alleviate some of the stress and/or anxiety that you may be experiencing from the unknown origin of the tinnitus. More importantly, it can provide you with a sense of direction in regards to what to do next and where to go from here with the tinnitus and hearing loss you may be experiencing, so you are more equipped with managing the tinnitus or hearing loss.
Hearing loss, more specifically, “sensorineural” hearing loss is one of the major causes of tinnitus or ringing. Addressing the root cause of the tinnitus has been indicated in the extensive literature and research as having a positive impact on the tinnitus experienced by individuals. It can reduce the perception of tinnitus by providing an improvement to your hearing ability. Hearing aids aim to bring back the missing sounds produced by the hearing loss, and as a result, they address the lack of auditory signals received by the auditory circuit to the brain. This means the severity or the subjective perception of the tinnitus experienced by the individual can be reduced.
Modern hearing aids are an invaluable resource, especially when it comes to reducing the effects of tinnitus. also have different features embedded in the hearing aids themselves, specifically targeted towards addressing and elevating the perception of tinnitus. Such features include “tinnitus masker”. This masking feature refers to the ability to produce a low-level white noise that can reduce the subjective perception of tinnitus and sometimes, residual inhibition. This white noise can be tailored for you through the hearing aids by an accredited audiologist. Another feature that can reduce the perception of tinnitus is the direct streaming of music from smartphones and other devices. Some individuals prefer music over low-level white noise, and this can be provided as an auditory distraction for your brain to focus on the music rather than solely on the tinnitus.
There are also several apps, including those designed by hearing aid manufacturers who specifically research and develop suitable apps to help those experiencing tinnitus. These can be used in conjunction with hearing aids, especially at night or in quiet listening environments, where the perception of the tinnitus may be heightened.
Tinnitus or ringing sounds are very unique to the individual, and this condition is often more common than people realise. You may find more than one person close to you with tinnitus and/or hearing loss, and their experience may be vastly different to your own. Hence, it is important to take the necessary steps in addressing and managing the tinnitus and hearing loss. First and foremost, it is critical to raise the concern regarding the tinnitus and/or tinnitus you may experience with your medical practitioner and accredited audiologist. They are trained in their fields to help you learn to better understand the tinnitus and/or hearing loss you experience and are there to help you navigate the most appropriate tinnitus treatment out there. Like the numerous causes of tinnitus, there are numerous treatment options for tinnitus. Hence, it is important to undergo appropriate measures to find the right management strategy for you
Attune is the leading independent provider of hearing healthcare services in Australia. Attune work to assist with all aspects of tinnitus and hearing loss and work to provide a treatment strategy that works for you. Contact Attune today on 1300 736 702 to book a hearing test or learn more about our services.