While one in every 10 to 15 people experience chronic tinnitus, 90% habituate, or get used to their tinnitus naturally. For those 10% that are unable to habituate naturally, it doesn’t mean they are weak-minded or have other issues. Simply, it means that their brain is reacting to an underlying condition of the auditory system in a more severe way, which is why normal habituation isn’t occurring.
It is important to first discuss why most tinnitus symptoms occur. Damage to the sensory “hair” cells in the inner ear, caused by either noise exposure, aging, genetics or health conditions, leads to hearing loss. When the sensory cells of the inner ear are damaged, they do not repair themselves. Sometimes the brain over-reacts to the lack of input from those sensory cells. That “over-reaction” manifests in the brain as a type of sound, often reported as a ringing, roaring, hissing, buzzing, cricket or locust-type of sound. Scientists are researching why this over-reaction occurs; however, they believe it is similar to phantom limb syndrome, in which someone experiences sensations, painful or otherwise, in a limb that no longer exists.
Those with tinnitus often also report sleeping problems, feelings of irritation, annoyance, frustration, anxiety and/or depression, as well as problems focusing on speech and concentration difficulties. Factors that can increase the severity of tinnitus include excessive consumption of caffeine, alcohol, or sodium-rich foods, using nicotine, increased levels of stress, exposure to loud noise as well as many medical conditions, including high cholesterol, hyperlipidemia, hyper- and hypothyroidism.
To understand why someone is experiencing tinnitus, they should first be evaluated by their primary care provider to review their medications and overall health. Once this is done, a hearing test is recommended, and the audiologist should also have the patient complete a questionnaire, rating the severity of the tinnitus and how it is impacting different aspects of their life. If hearing loss is found, treating the hearing loss is the first recommended step. Usually this involves hearing aids, which have a 60% success rate of improving the patient’s perception of their tinnitus. Even if the tinnitus isn’t eliminated while wearing hearing aids, it should be noted that use of hearing aids has a 90% success rate for both improving concentration and speech clarity, both of which are common complaints of those with tinnitus. For those that rate their tinnitus severity as high, hearing aid technology that can treat hearing loss as well as provide masking noises is recommended (see the front page for information on the impressive Widex Moment with Zen noise).
Sleep is so important for good health, and tinnitus often interferes with one’s ability to fall asleep easily. Recommended devices to help mask tinnitus and encourage sleep include sound machines, box fan, radio or television. The general idea is to avoid quiet, as that is when the tinnitus is usually most noticeable. Having a low-level sound in the background for the brain to focus on, instead of the internal noise in their head, offers tinnitus sufferers some feeling of control over their tinnitus, which improves their stress levels. Cognitive behavioral therapy may also be recommended for those with severe tinnitus.
As you can see, treating tinnitus isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. At Adaptive Audiology Solutions we understand this and have designed tinnitus treatment protocols based on research and solutions that provide the best outcomes. We are proud to offer the only tinnitus treatment program in the Carroll and Denison area. This is just another way we are striving to “provide hearing healthcare that puts the patient first.” Call us today at 712-775-2625 to schedule a tinnitus consultation.