Do you hear a ringing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound in your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Does the sound bother you a lot? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. Roughly 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus and in some cases the effects are so severe it interferes with their daily activities. 17 million Americans report a significant or debilitating problem. If you have tinnitus you may even find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.
Although there is no cure for tinnitus, audiologists, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find the ones that help.
Sound Therapy: Sound therapy is used to treat tinnitus. Sound therapy is designed to retrain the brain to ignore the tinnitus, and is achieved with the use of sound generators or hearing instruments to partially mask the tinnitus. If a hearing loss is present the use of hearing instruments and/or combination devices (sound generators and amplifiers) help tinnitus by improving communication and reducing stress, as well as providing partial masking.
Treatments can include:
- Hearing aids: Most people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids create a dual benefit of enhancing hearing and masking or covering up the tinnitus. The majority of patients with tinnitus receive partial or complete relief from their tinnitus with the use of hearing aids.
- Maskers: Tinnitus maskers are small electronic devices that look like hearing aids and are tuned to generate sound that masks or covers up the tinnitus. Like hearing aids, they may provide relief from the tinnitus, but will not enhance hearing and may interfere with understanding speech. Habituation to tinnitus cannot be done if the tinnitus is fully masked. We cannot habituate to something that we cannot hear. We will sometimes use total masking to provide immediate relief for patients who need it and then progress to sound therapy.
- Many types of devices, such as fans, radios and sound generators can be used as tinnitus maskers to help tinnitus sufferers to fall sleep or get back to sleep.
- Medicine or drug therapy: As a tinnitus sufferer you may develop anxiety and other strong emotional responses to your tinnitus. Certain medicines may provide relief from these emotional reactions and provide some relief from the tinnitus. Other medicines and nutritional supplements can provide additional relief.
- Counseling: If you have tinnitus you may experience anxiety, depression and other psychiatric problems. You may be referred to a psychiatrist or counselor as needed.
- Relaxing: Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus seem worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.
Think about things that will help you cope. Many people find listening to music very helpful. Focusing on music might help you forget about your tinnitus for a while. It can also help to mask the sound. Other people like to listen to recorded nature sounds, like ocean waves, the wind, or even crickets.
Avoid anything that can make your tinnitus worse, such as smoking, alcohol and loud noise. If you are a construction worker, an airport worker, or a hunter, or if you are regularly exposed to loud noise at home or at work, wear ear plugs or special earmuffs to protect your hearing and keep your tinnitus from getting worse.
If it is hard for you to hear over your tinnitus, ask your friends and family to face you when they talk so you can see their faces. Seeing their expressions may help you understand them better. Ask people to speak louder, but not shout. Also, tell them they do not have to talk slowly, just more clearly.
If you have tinnitus:
- Avoid silence (provide low level sound enrichment)
- Do not “overprotect” your ears, but, use ear protection in loud environments (lawn mowing, loud music, power tools, factory, hunting)
- Do things you enjoy
- Do things which will take your mind away from tinnitus
- Get enough sleep, exercise regularly