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What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a medical condition characterized by persistent noise in one or both ears that is perceived when no external noise source is present. It is typically only heard by the affected individual and is often described as a ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing, or pulsing sound in the ear. It is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying malfunction somewhere along the auditory pathway. These sounds may come and go, but some people experience symptoms 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that over 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus. Only 16 million are bothered by it enough to seek treatment and up to 2 million are so debilitated by it that they cannot function on a day-to-day basis.

Causes of Tinnitus

The exact physiological cause of tinnitus is unknown, however there are fairly consistent triggers that can lead to the onset of tinnitus including: noise exposure – one of the most common and can cause permanent hearing loss as well; medications; hearing loss; foods; trauma; stress; head and neck injuries; and diseases or health problems. Research on the origin and the search for a cure is ongoing.

Are Some People at Greater Risk for Tinnitus?

Tinnitus does not discriminate but it does tend to occur more frequently in the elderly or men with noise-induced hearing loss. A particular segment of the population that is notably impacted by both hearing loss and tinnitus are military veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, tinnitus is the number one service-connected disability for veterans from all periods of service with hearing loss ranking second.

Is There a Cure?

Presently there is no cure for tinnitus. It is important to know however, that all hope is not lost! There are a number of effective treatment options that can manage and provide relief from tinnitus. A very large percentage of people who suffer from tinnitus associated with hearing loss find effective relief from their tinnitus by wearing appropriately adjusted hearing aids.
There are many dietary supplements that claim to provide tinnitus relief, most commonly gingko biloba, zinc, melatonin, and lipoflavonoids. Because of the category of supplements, they do not fall under FDA scrutiny and manufacturers can claim what they choose. Please know that NONE OF THESE SUPPLEMENTS DEMONSTRATE REPLICABLE EFFICACY AND IN FACT, MAY ACTUALLY POSE POTENTIAL HARM, ESPECIALLY IN THE ELDERLY.

Neurophysiologists at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have discovered a new drug that may prevent tinnitus and treat epilepsy by selectively affecting potassium channels in the brain. More work in that area still needs to be completed and before the drug is released, it will need to meet FDA standards.

Frequently Asked Questions

No. Almost all of the “surefire” remedies for tinnitus found on the Internet are based on junk science, case studies, or no real evidence at all and in some cases are actually harmful. But there are some things you can try to help lessen symptoms, including:
  • Limiting exposure to loud noises
  • Lowering your blood pressure
  • Ingesting less salt
  • Limiting intake of alcohol, caffeine and nicotine
There many things that can worsen or exacerbate your tinnitus including high stress levels, noise exposure, use of aspirin, alcohol or caffeine, tobacco and high sodium intake.

Not yet. Since tinnitus has many underlying causes, a cure is hard to define. Curing tinnitus may be possible, but likely not in the near future, unless your tinnitus can be linked to a specific medical problem. If your tinnitus is related to hearing loss here are a couple areas of current research:

Theory by Neurologists suggests that altering certain areas of the brain that respond to sound — or a lack thereof — may provide relief.

Experiments to regrow damaged inner ear hair cells have also been performed. Damage of hair cells cause hearing loss, ultimately for many resulting in tinnitus. 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.

These theories are likely years away from clinical trials, which means a greater period of time until any possible cure hits the market. However, there are treatment options that are available depending on how your tinnitus is affecting your daily life. Contact Eastside Audiology to discuss the options open to you.

No. Tinnitus is a symptom of any number of conditions, including hearing loss.

Tinnitus does not usually wake people, but rather makes it difficult to fall asleep or get back to sleep if you wake up for another reason.

The following are some suggestions or modifications you can try to improve your ability to sleep.

  • Exercise during the day
  • Avoid napping
  • Make the following modifications to your bedroom: Eliminate TV, phones, or computers
  • Darken room
  • Set the room to a comfortable, but slightly cool temperature
  • Listen to low level background sound (e.g., radio, sound generator, fan)
  • Employ relaxation techniques (e.g., imagery, muscle relaxation)
  • Insure you are in otherwise good health. Sleep Apnea or frequent nighttime urination can often wake you throughout the night. Contact your physician with concerns regarding these and other conditions that may be affecting your nighttime sleep.
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.