Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears, but can also sound like hissing, buzzing, roaring, sizzling, clicking or other noise. Tinnitus can manifest as an acute symptom lasting just a few days or a chronic or recurring symptom lasting weeks, months or years.
Tinnitus is a symptom of a wide range of health conditions, and it can occasionally point to a more serious problem that needs professional medical attention. That is why trying to identify a cause is essential, even though it may not be possible.
During a tinnitus evaluation, our audiologist will typically administer:
- An in-depth review of your medical history
- A complete physical examination of your auditory system
- A pure tone audiometry test
- Speech reception and word recognition tests
- Additional tests, studies and evaluations
If you’re one of the five percent of Americans suffering from tinnitus that is “moderately to significantly annoying,” it’s a great idea to visit a hearing specialist for an evaluation. Our team of audiologists is equipped with many tools and strategies to help patients with tinnitus, but we need first to assess your condition.
What to Expect During an Evaluation
When evaluating a patient with tinnitus, we have several goals we hope to accomplish:
- Identify the underlying cause of your tinnitus symptoms
- Determine if your tinnitus is subjective or objective
- Evaluate how your tinnitus is affecting your ability to understand speech
One of the goals of an evaluation is to rule out what is not causing your tinnitus symptoms. Some common causes include hearing loss, ear bone changes, inner ear disorders, blood pressure changes due to an underlying condition and even certain medications.
Questionnaires our audiologist may have you take include:
- Tinnitus functional index
- Tinnitus handicap inventory
- Tinnitus and hearing survey
Because tinnitus can be challenging to characterize, questionnaires can help to identify causes that a patient may not have considered. The Tinnitus Functional Index is designed to identify the impact of tinnitus on areas from sleep to the ability to relax. The Tinnitus Handicap Inventory can help determine the perceived impact tinnitus has on a patient’s daily life.
Treating Conditional Causes of Tinnitus
Suppose we can determine a diagnosis and address the condition causing your tinnitus. In that case, we may also be able to treat that condition and relieve your symptoms, although tinnitus is not always treatable and may require management instead.
If we can’t identify a specific cause of your tinnitus, we will recommend other treatment options that can help you better manage and reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
There is no universal cure for tinnitus, but treatments can help make it less of a distraction. Because tinnitus is a side effect of an underlying condition, identifying the problem may lead to a medical or surgical solution. The cure rates for pulsatile tinnitus are relatively high once your specialist identifies the problem.
Unfortunately, in many cases, doctors cannot find the exact cause of tinnitus. However, you can often manage symptoms successfully through several different strategies.
Acoustic therapy is the use of sound with the intent to alter the tinnitus perception and reactions for clinical benefit. Often, sounds are used to cover up, or mask, tinnitus. Electronic devices that produce white noise, air conditioners, fans and soft music can all be employed.
You can employ a range of sound therapy options, including audio files, sleep noise generators, tinnitus-specific earbuds and more. These acoustic therapy methods help to habituate a tinnitus sufferer to their symptoms by reducing the contrast between the tonal sounds they hear and their environment. This allows the brain to blend and mask tinnitus sounds with natural and therapy added environmental noises.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy
This is another approach to acoustic therapy; tinnitus retraining therapy utilizes a portable sound generator that produces soft patterned tones to help desensitize the brain to the sounds of tinnitus.
One of the latest iterations of tinnitus retraining therapy is called acoustic neuromodulation. Using a combination of computer software, self-reporting and ongoing hearing tests, a specialist can create a custom tone profile designed to treat your specific tinnitus tones. The profile can be adjusted as needed over time.
A standard treatment option utilizes hearing aids, as nearly 90% of those with tinnitus also experience hearing loss. Hearing aids are used to amplify background sounds, which can mask tinnitus. These devices can also help you distinguish one sound from another, improving communication and helping with focus and concentration difficulties. Many hearing aids come packaged with noise generators to replace ambient sounds if amplification alone does not reduce tinnitus.
Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be practical in helping you manage your tinnitus symptoms by reducing the stress, anxiety and sleeplessness that are often associated with tinnitus.
Behavioral therapy can be effective and provide a range of coping skills to help you manage tinnitus symptoms and the associated stress and depression that often accompany the condition.
You Aren’t Alone with Your Tinnitus
You aren’t alone. We understand how isolating tinnitus can be and we can help you take the next step in your tinnitus management. A thorough evaluation is the first step so our specialists can determine if your tinnitus has a physical cause.
In some instances, tinnitus may be cured. But for most, the treatment option is based on managing the tinnitus. We will help you find the resources, additional specialists, devices and tools you need to manage your tinnitus symptoms successfully. You aren’t alone.
Call Family Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at (402) 572-3165 for more information or to schedule an appointment.