Tinnitus

Ringing, Buzzing, Whistling...Annoying
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Tinnitus

Ringing, Buzzing, Whistling...Annoying
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What causes tinnitus?

Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus. But it can also be the result of a number of health conditions, such as:

  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Thyroid abnormalities
Why do I have this noise in my ear?

Although we hear tinnitus in our ears, its source is really in the networks of brain cells (what scientists call neural circuits) that make sense of the sounds our ears hear. A way to think about tinnitus is that it often begins in the ear, but it continues in the brain.

Scientists still haven’t agreed upon what happens in the brain to create the illusion of sound when there is none. Some think that tinnitus is similar to chronic pain syndrome, in which the pain persists even after a wound or broken bone has healed.

Tinnitus could be the result of the brain’s neural circuits trying to adapt to the loss of sensory hair cells by turning up the sensitivity to sound. This would explain why some people with tinnitus are oversensitive to loud noise.

Are there treatments that can cure tinnitus?

Tinnitus does not have a cure yet, but treatments that help many people cope better with the condition are available. Most doctors will offer a combination of the treatments below, depending on the severity of your tinnitus and the areas of your life it affects the most.

  • Hearing aids often are helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using a hearing aid adjusted to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to hear. 
  • Counseling helps you learn how to live with your tinnitus. Most counseling programs have an educational component to help you understand what goes on in the brain to cause tinnitus. Some counseling programs also will help you change the way you think about and react to your tinnitus. You might learn some things to do on your own to make the noise less noticeable, to help you relax during the day, or to fall asleep at night.
  • Wearable sound generators are small electronic devices that fit in the ear and use a soft, pleasant sound to help mask the tinnitus. 
  • Tabletop sound generators are used as an aid for relaxation or sleep. Placed near your bed, you can program a generator to play pleasant sounds such as waves, waterfalls, rain, or the sounds of a summer night. 
  • Acoustic neural stimulation is a relatively new technique for people whose tinnitus is very loud or won’t go away. It uses a palm-sized device and headphones to deliver a broadband acoustic signal embedded in music. The treatment helps stimulate change in the neural circuits in the brain, which eventually desensitizes you to the tinnitus. The device has been shown to be effective in reducing or eliminating tinnitus in a significant number of study volunteers.
What are researchers doing to better understand tinnitus?

Along the path a hearing signal travels to get from the inner ear to the brain, there are many places where things can go wrong to cause tinnitus. If scientists can understand what goes on in the brain to start tinnitus and cause it to persist, they can look for those places in the system where a therapeutic intervention could stop tinnitus in its tracks.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) sponsored a workshop that brought together tinnitus researchers to talk about the condition and develop fresh ideas for potential cures. During the course of the workshop, participants discussed a number of promising research directions, including:

  • Electrical or magnetic stimulation of brain areas involved in hearing. Implantable devices already exist to reduce the trembling of Parkinson’s disease and the anxieties of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Similar devices could be developed to normalize the neural circuits involved in tinnitus.
  • Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS). This technique, which uses a small device placed on the scalp to generate short magnetic pulses, is already being used to normalize electrical activity in the brains of people with epilepsy. Preliminary trials of rTMS in humans, funded by the NIDCD, are helping researchers pinpoint the best places in the brain to stimulate in order to suppress tinnitus. Researchers are also looking for ways to identify which people are most likely to respond well to stimulation devices.
  • Hyperactivity and deep brain stimulation. Researchers have observed hyperactivity in neural networks after exposing the ear to intense noise. Understanding specifically where in the brain this hyperactivity begins and how it spreads to other areas could lead to treatments that use deep brain stimulation to calm the neural networks and reduce tinnitus.
  • Resetting the tonotopic map. Researchers are exploring how to take advantage of the tonotopic map, which organizes neurons in the auditory cortex according to the frequency of the sound to which they respond. Previous research has shown a change in the organization of the tonotopic map after exposing the ear to intense noise. By understanding how these changes happen, researchers could develop techniques to bring the map back to normal and relieve tinnitus.

 

Are there different types of tinnitus?

Tinnitus is generally divided into two categories: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is defined as tinnitus that is audible to another person as a sound emanating from the ear canal, whereas subjective tinnitus is audible only to the patient.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the presence of a noise in the ear when no external sound is present. It is often described as a ringing in the ears, but it can also sound like roaring, hissing, or buzzing.

Can I Prevent Tinnitus?

Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. Anything you can do to limit your exposure to loud noise will help prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse.

Tinnitus Treatment

Find the Right One for You

We do not take a one-size-fits-all approach to treating tinnitus.  A complicated problem requires a comprehensive approach to a solution.

HEARING AIDS

Hearing aids often are helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using a hearing aid adjusted to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to hear. The better you hear, the less you may notice your tinnitus. Read the NIDCD fact sheet Hearing Aids for more information.

Sound Generators

Tabletop sound generators are used as an aid for relaxation or sleep. Placed near your bed, you can program a generator to play pleasant sounds such as waves, waterfalls, rain, or the sounds of a summer night. If your tinnitus is mild, this might be all you need to help you fall asleep.

Maskers

Wearable sound generators or maskers are small electronic devices that fit in the ear and use a soft, pleasant sound to help mask the tinnitus. Some people want the masking sound to totally cover up their tinnitus, but most prefer a masking level that is just a bit louder than their tinnitus. The masking sound can be a soft “shhhhhhhhhhh,” random tones, or music.

Neuromonics

Neuromonics, Inc. is a medical device company dedicated to helping people with its treatments for ringing in the ears, clinically known as tinnitus.  Neuromonics manufactures and distributes the only FDA-cleared, patented and clinically proven medical devices designed for long-term, significant relief of tinnitus.

The Levo System

Utilizing an FDA-cleared neuroscience-based approach, the Levo System is a personal and patented nightly sound therapy designed to improve the quality of a patient’s daily life.

Tinnitus FAQ

Roughly 10 percent of the adult population of the United States 25 million Americans) has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.

Who is more likely to experience hearing loss, men or women?

Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women.

Who is the typical person suffering from tinnitus?
Of adults ages 65 and older in the United States, 12.3 percent of men and nearly 14 percent of women are affected by tinnitus. Tinnitus is identified more frequently in white individuals and the prevalence of tinnitus is almost twice as frequent in the South as in the Northeast.
What percentage of American adults report hearing loss?
Approximately 17 percent of American adults report some degree of hearing loss
Is there a connection between hearing loss and age?
There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 18 percent of American adults 45-64 years old, 30 percent of adults 65-74 years old, and 47 percent of adults 75 years old or older have a hearing loss.
How does exposure to loud noise impact your hearing?
Approximately 15 percent (26 million) of Americans between the ages of 20 and 69 have high frequency hearing loss due to exposure to loud sounds or noise at work or in leisure activities.

FOllow Up & Care

What are researchers doing to better understand tinnitus?

Along the path a hearing signal travels to get from the inner ear to the brain, there are many places where things can go wrong to cause tinnitus. If scientists can understand what goes on in the brain to start tinnitus and cause it to persist, they can look for those places in the system where therapeutic intervention could stop tinnitus in its tracks.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) sponsors workshops that bring together tinnitus researchers to talk about the condition and develop fresh ideas for potential cures. During the course of the workshop, participants discuss a number of promising research directions.

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