What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when no actual external sound exists. Tinnitus is characterized by a persistent sound in one or both ears that is typically only heard by the affected individual. While commonly referred to as “ringing in the ears,” the tinnitus sound can be perceived as any number of sounds, including hissing, buzzing, humming, whistling, whooshing, and clicking, and it often fluctuates in loudness and/or sound quality.

According to The U.S. Centers for Disease Control, approximately 15% of the general population, or roughly 50 million Americans, may experience some form of tinnitus. Nearly 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. Tinnitus is a unique experience, which some describe as an annoyance or irritant, while others suffer greatly. Unfortunately, many people suffering from tinnitus are told there is nothing that can be done or that they need to learn to live with it. With the area’s most experienced tinnitus and sound sensitivity audiologist, Hearing & Balance Specialists of Kansas City offers hope to tinnitus sufferers.

 

What Causes Tinnitus?

There are many causes for tinnitus, as it is a symptom of some other underlying health condition. The most common cause is hearing loss. The first step in understanding the underlying cause of tinnitus is a thorough evaluation. Possible causes for tinnitus are:

Loud noises can be a cause of tinnitus

Exposure to loud noise

Some medications can be a cause of tinnitus

Certain medications

Diet can be a cause of tinnitus

Diet

Head Trauma can be a cause of tinnitus

Head Trauma

Stress can be a cause of tinnitus

Stress

Blockage can be a cause of tinnitus

Eardrum blockage

Jaw joint disorders can be a cause of tinnitus

Jaw joint disorders

Hearing Loss can be a cause of tinnitus

Hearing loss

Although hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus, many people with tinnitus deny any hearing concerns. However, we do know that the loss of certain sound frequencies, even if they are undetected by the tinnitus patient, leads to specific changes in how the brain processes sound. In short, as the brain receives less input from the ear around a specific frequency or pitch, it begins to adapt and change. The result is an increase in neurological noise, or tinnitus. Tinnitus may be the brain’s way of filling in the missing sound frequencies it no longer receives from the auditory system.
 

Is There a Cure?

There is currently no cure for tinnitus. However, there are well-established tools and management options that can significantly reduce the negative impact of tinnitus on your daily life. With perseverance and support from our expert audiologists, Drs. Sam Bittel, Flowers, and Lake, offers options to help even the most severe cases of tinnitus patients.
 

What Are the Options for Tinnitus Management?

Diagnostic audiological testing and a medical evaluation will rule out possible medical factors that could be causing or contributing to your tinnitus. Because your tinnitus symptoms are personal and unique in nature, an in-depth interview and tinnitus assessment will help us create a specialized tinnitus management plan for you.

The primary objective for all currently-available tinnitus management options is to lower the perception and disturbance of tinnitus, allowing the patient to live a more comfortable, unencumbered, and content life. The number one treatment for tinnitus for those who also experience hearing loss is the use of sound therapy, which can improve your hearing if necessary, and often reduce or eliminate your perception of tinnitus. There are a number of sound therapy options, including:

AGX Hearing TechnologyHearing Aids: The most successful option for tinnitus patients also experiencing hearing loss, hearing aids can improve your communication ability while providing significant relief from tinnitus. We work with all major manufacturers, offering a wide array of technology.

MaskingMasking: An electronic device called a masker may be worn to distract from the ringing sensation. Maskers fit in the ear similarly to hearing aids and produce low-level sounds. In addition, bedside sound generators and other devices can also help remove the perception of ringing.

Tinnitus therapyTinnitus Therapy: A therapeutic process in which we specialize and has provided relief to many patients. Our process is a combination approach of both sound therapy and counseling, which together promotes long-term habituation (desensitization), allowing you to live your daily life far more peacefully.

Cognitive behavioral therapyBehavioral Therapies: Behavioral therapies have been shown to help reduce tinnitus-related distress, anxiety and depression, and to overall improve the body’s emotional reaction to tinnitus. Recommendation of behavioral therapy is a standard part of tinnitus therapy.


Frequently Asked Questions

Are there medications for tinnitus?
There are presently no FDA-approved medications specifically for treating tinnitus, and no medications that have been shown to reverse the neuroplastic changes causing tinnitus. Certain medications may provide relief from some severe tinnitus symptoms. It is important to discuss any change in medication with your prescribing physician.
Can tinnitus be cured?
Current research by neurologists suggests that altering certain areas of the brain that respond to sound — or a lack thereof — may provide relief. Experiments to regrow broken hair cells have also been performed. Regrowth of hair cells means that hearing is restored, which prevents the brain from attempting to fill the void left by a lack of hair cells, ultimately ending tinnitus. Both theories are likely years away from clinical trials, which means a greater period of time until any possible cure hits the market. Curing tinnitus may be possible, but likely not in the near future.
Can tinnitus be directly measured?
As tinnitus is most commonly subjective, in that the patient experiencing tinnitus is the only one who can hear it, tinnitus is impossible to objectively measure. However, during your tinnitus consultation, a tinnitus assessment may be performed. This assessment involves measuring the approximate pitch, loudness, and maskability of your tinnitus.
Does tinnitus cause hearing loss?
No. Tinnitus is a symptom of any number of conditions, including hearing loss.
Why is tinnitus worse at night?
In our daily lives, sounds around us typically mask tinnitus to some degree. At night, when things are quiet, there’s less noise and fewer mental distractions. If your tinnitus is stress-related, it’s also possible that the cumulative stress of your day has made your symptoms worse.