OHSU

Tinnitus Facts

Tinnitus Facts and Information

 

On this page, we try to provide you with the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about Tinnitus. Please scroll down to find more information on this disorder, how to deal with tinnitus, and how to relieve tinnitus. The information on this page is intended for informational use only. It should not be considered medical advice or treatment for your condition. Any medical advice or treatment should be planned and carried out under the plan developed for you with your medical provider.

What is Tinnitus?


Tinnitus, often described as a ringing or buzzing sound in the ear, is a symptom that can be related to almost every known hearing problem. Tinnitus is not a disease, but it can be caused by exposure to loud sounds, middle or inner ear infections, tumors on the hearing nerve, and even wax on the eardrum.

Sometimes tinnitus can be medically or surgically treated. All patients with tinnitus should consult an ear, nose and throat physician (otolaryngologist) before seeking any other form of treatment.

It is not always possible for your physician to determine the cause of your tinnitus; each case is different. The same cause will not necessarily produce the same set of symptoms in each patient.

Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Does cutting the Hearing Nerve Cure Tinnitus?

Unfortunately, cutting the nerve does not relive tinnitus often enough to recommend it as a treatment. It does, however, produce total deafness in the operated ear, may cause balance problems, and, in some cases, can make the tinnitus worse.

Will Tinnitus cause me to lose my hearing?

No, but tinnitus may be worse with a loss of hearing. Ninety percent of patients with severe tinnitus also experience some hearing loss, usually in the high frequencies, which may be produced by exposure to loud sounds. The accompanying symptom is usually a high-pitched noise, often called "ringing tinnitus". Tinnitus patients should do everything possible to protect their hearing.

Is Tinnitus interfering with my hearing?

No. Tinnitus does not interfere with hearing, although it may affect your attention span. On the other hand, tinnitus will seem worse if your hearing loss increases because outside sounds will no longer cover up the tinnitus.

Dealing with Tinnitus

 Although psychological or emotional problems may be associated with tinnitus, it is a real problem -- not imagined. Almost all patients indicate that stress or tension makes their tinnitus worse. Tinnitus is difficult to describe because there is no standard terminology related to it. Family and friends have trouble understanding the problems tinnitus patients face because they cannot see or hear it themselves. Because tinnitus is so hard to describe and treat, patients may fall victim to self-pity and depression. Some tinnitus patients withdraw from social interactions and push family members and coworkers away--the very people who can help patients cope with the tinnitus problems.

 

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Relieving Tinnitus

Approximately 40 million Americans have ongoing (chronic) tinnitus. For 10 million of these people, tinnitus can be a severely debilitating condition and interferes with activities and lifestyle. However, for 30 million Americans with tinnitus, it is not bothersome. For these Americans, tinnitus does not interfere with the enjoyment of life for the majority of people who experience it. Our goal is to help patients to understand and gain control over their tinnitus, rather than it having control over them. We hope to help patients progress to the point where tinnitus is no longer a negative factor in their lives.

For those in the debilitating tinnitus group, we want those patients to move from the ‘severely debilitated’ group of tinnitus sufferers to the ‘not bothered by tinnitus’ group and to enjoy their lives as much as possible.

There are, as yet, no cures for tinnitus but there are several treatments currently used to produce relief. One treatment is the use of Acoustic Therapy which is available in several forms. Another relief procedure involves medications to help patients to control their anxiety, depression, or insomnia. Research for relief procedures continues, and hope is very much alive.

Acoustic Therapy

Acoustic Therapy is one category of treatment used at our Clinic. It is the addition or enhancement of external sounds that can reduce the perception of tinnitus. Acoustic Therapy is available in several forms including small sound generators that are worn in the ears; hearing aids; tapes, CDs, and bedside units that can help with sleep or concentration; pillows embedded with small speakers that can plug into any tape, CD, or sound generation machines.

Comprehensive treatment programs

Our staff of experts works with patients to design an effective treatment program based on the individual patient's needs. The structure of each individual treatment program is determined by the patient’s medical, hearing, tinnitus, and psychosocial histories and conditions. Treatment programs can include -- but are not limited to -- the following elements:

Medical Intervention -- if there is a possibility that the cause of tinnitus can be treated medically, this approach will be explored thoroughly

Lifestyle Changes -- can include alterations in diet, medications, and leisure or work activities

Acoustic Therapies -- can include amplification, wearable sound generators, bedside units, tapes and CDs

Counseling -- can include therapy, relaxation therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, and stress reduction techniques

Medications -- can include sleep aids and medications to reduce anxiety or other biochemically-based emotional problems

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) also known as Habituation Therapy

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Finding the Best Treatment Method for Tinnitus

 It takes time to find the correct method of treatment and to properly fit and adjust hearing or tinnitus instruments. Please remember that most treatments only provide relief, not a cure.

Understanding the Symptoms

 The faucet test can help you understand more about your tinnitus. Open a water faucet to full force. Can you hear your tinnitus? The sound of running water contains many different tones or frequencies. If it reduces the loudness of your tinnitus, sounds like this will probably provide you with some relief.

Things to avoid

All Loud Sounds Wear earmuffs or earplugs when using chain saws, guns, lawn mowers, loud music or power tools. Exposure to loud sounds can make tinnitus worse and can also cause additional hearing loss. Keep in mind that driving with the window or top down can also cause exposure to enough sound to cause problems - be very cautious and talk with your doctor about what to avoid.

Excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, or aspirin However, moderate use of these products is usually okay.