If you’re reading this, chances are you are suffering from some sort of ringing/buzzing/hissing noises in your ears/head. Perhaps you’ve already talked to your family doctor or an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist and were told that “nothing can be done”. It breaks my heart every time one of my clients tells me that they’ve walked away feeling that there’s no help for them when it’s simply not true. I would not be here writing this and Tinnitus and Hearing Health Calgary would certainly not be here if that were the case!
Tinnitus is a very complex and poorly understood phenomenon; not surprisingly, there is so much misinformation out there that even some healthcare professionals know next to nothing about it.
In this post, I will address Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about the basic facts of tinnitus, and practical tips about what you can do about it.
Please read on…
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus (TIN-a-tus or tin-EYE-tus) refers to the phantom perception of sound without an external sound source. According to the Tinnitus Foundation of Canada, more than 360,000 Canadians suffer from tinnitus and about 150,000 find that these noises seriously impair the quality of their lives. Worldwide, approximately 15% of the population has tinnitus.
Like chronic pain, tinnitus is subjective; the severity is largely a function of you react to your own symptoms. While the intensity can vary, tinnitus can have a serious impact on quality of life leading to sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.
Although tinnitus can sometimes be very distressing, it is usually not life-threatening, and the quality of your life can be recovered. You may not be able to get rid of your tinnitus noise completely, but you can gradually reduce or eliminate the way tinnitus affects you to the point where you barely notice it.
What does tinnitus sound like?
Although tinnitus is commonly known as “ringing in the ears”, ringing is actually only one of many phantom sounds that people experience. Other perceived tinnitus noises include hissing, static, buzzing, whooshing, roaring, ocean waves, buzzing and clicking.
What causes tinnitus?
A poorly understood phenomenon, tinnitus it is not a disease, but a symptom of underlying issues. While there is no single cause, factors such as smoking, hypertension, diabetes, being overweight, high cholesterol, having a history of noise exposure, a major depressive disorder, a generalized anxiety disorder, and/or existing hearing loss can increase the likelihood of experiencing frequent tinnitus. Although tinnitus can be present in individuals with normal hearing, it is often attributed to hearing loss; the Workers’ Compensation Board of Alberta found that the prevalence of tinnitus among noise-exposed workers in British Columbia was found to be associated with hearing thresholds.
Where is the tinnitus coming from and will it go away?
Research suggests that tinnitus results from your brain’s attempt to overcompensate for damage to the auditory system (hearing loss). Although hearing loss associated with tinnitus can range in severity from minimal to profound, most people with hearing loss do not experience tinnitus, but there are many changes in brain activity that occurs throughout the auditory pathway in association with tinnitus. Although it’s unlikely we can make it go away, it is possible to retrain the brain to lessen the prominence of your tinnitus and the amount of attention you pay to it.
If tinnitus can’t be cured, what CAN be done about it?
A cure for primary tinnitus does not yet exist, and despite claims to the contrary, no method has been proven to provide long-term suppression of tinnitus. The best tinnitus management approaches work by relieving the functional effects of tinnitus, such as sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, problems with hearing, and difficulty relaxing. It’s important to keep in mind that although tinnitus cannot be cured, you can learn to manage your reactions to it and improve your quality of life.
Who can I talk to about my tinnitus?
To rule out any medically treatable conditions that could be contributing to your tinnitus, it’s always a good idea to see your family doctor or ask for a referral to an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) Specialist. Remember though, their focus is on evaluating whether there is anything they can do for you from a MEDICAL or SURGICAL standpoint. For the vast majority of cases, tinnitus cannot be medically corrected. However, please do not be discouraged when they tell you “nothing can be done”. No medical solutions DOES NOT MEAN there is no help available!
For non-medical means of tinnitus management, look for a Registered Clinical Audiologist with specialized training in tinnitus treatment. As a Gold professional member of The American Tinnitus Association, I’d like to pass on their guidelines on what to look for in a tinnitus treatment clinic:
- Do they follow the best practice guideline for tinnitus management, as developed by the American Academy of Otolaryngology?
- What tests do they require/suggest, and what are these tests designed to reveal?
- What is their diagnosis of your condition?
- Have they ruled out any physical causes of tinnitus: TMJ (jaw disorders), head/neck trauma, obstruction in the ear canal, tumors, etc.
- Are they familiar with the full range of tinnitus management options currently available?
- What tinnitus management option do they recommend best for your situation? Is this service available?
- What tinnitus treatments are used in their practice?
- What treatment plan is recommended for you? Can they provide this service or will you be referred to another provider?
- How much will treatment cost? How many visits will be needed?
- Do they give you any additional information to review?
- Are they a professional member of the American Tinnitus Association?
What’s the deal with these so-called “tinnitus cures” I keep hearing about?
Chances are, you’ve probably heard about or even tried new and groundbreaking “cures” that will “get rid of your tinnitus forever”. Do these products work as advertised? Probably not. For example, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery’s 2014 Clinical Practice Guideline for Tinnitus does not recommend the use of medications, dietary supplements, acupuncture, or transcranial magnetic stimulation for the treatment of persistent, bothersome tinnitus due to either a lack of evidence that it works at all, or worse, the potential for harm outweighs the benefits.
In fact, anything reported online or in the press is not monitored or regulated, so these manufacturers of so-called “cures” are free to say whatever they want. In other words: BE SKEPTICAL. These products have a tendency to prey on the vulnerable and are highly susceptible to the placebo effect; if you want to believe it works, you’ll fool yourself into thinking it does. And it may seem to work…TEMPORARILY. However, the placebo effect won’t stand the test of time. That’s why tinnitus experts agree that at least 6 months of a multi-dimensional approach that takes a holistic perspective in treatment is expected for consistent, and measurable results that will last.
In other words, be extremely wary of anyone promising you a quick fix for your tinnitus. It takes time and consistency for your brain to adapt and change its way of perceiving and reacting to your tinnitus. Read more on what tools I have in my Tinnitus Toolbox that may help you.
What can I do on my own?
If you’ve read through this article, you’re already off to a good start in empowering yourself with information! Just be mindful to look at reputable sources, such as the American Tinnitus Association or check out The Consumer Handbook on Tinnitus by Dr. Richard Tyler, whose work in tinnitus at the University of Iowa spans over 30 years and culminated in the development of Tinnitus Activities Treatment, the theories of which I incorporate into helping my own tinnitus clients.
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