Tinnitus is a symptom characterized as a ringing in the ears, though some patients describe their symptom as a buzzing, chirping, whooshing, sizzling, clicking, whistling, or other similar repeating sound. Tinnitus is very common—it affects around 50 million Americans. About 1 in 20 people suffer from tinnitus that is “moderately to significantly annoying”, and 1 in every 100 experiences symptoms that are “debilitating.” While there is no known cure for tinnitus, anyone experiencing this symptom should see a Louisville tinnitus specialist for an assessment. In some cases, tinnitus may indicate a more serious underlying condition. If the cause isn’t clear, Heuser Hearing Clinic’s audiology team can offer options for treating or managing your symptoms.
Tinnitus can manifest as an acute symptom, lasting just a few days, or a chronic or recurring symptom, lasting weeks, months, years, or a lifetime. If you’re one of the 5% of Kentucky residents suffering from tinnitus that is “moderately to significantly annoying,” it’s a great idea to visit one of Heuser Hearing Clinic’s Louisville tinnitus specialists for an evaluation. Our team of audiologists and otologists is equipped with many tools and strategies to help patients with tinnitus, but first we need to assess your condition.
GOALS OF TINNITUS TESTS
There are several goals we hope to accomplish when we evaluate a patient’s tinnitus:
- Identify the underlying cause of your tinnitus symptoms
- Determine is your tinnitus is subjective (experienced only by you) or objective (detectable to your audiologist)
- Evaluate how your tinnitus is affecting your speech perception
- Assess whether you’re experiencing hyperacusis (sound sensitivity)
- Pinpoint the frequency and loudness of the sound you’re hearing
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. Subjective tinnitus is much more common and is often caused by ototoxic (ear-damaging) medications or one of many audiological, neurological, metabolic, or psychological conditions. Objective tinnitus is much more rare and is often tied to underlying vascular or neurological problems.
If we can determine a diagnosis and address the condition causing your tinnitus, we may also be able to treat that condition and relieve your symptoms. If we can’t identify a specific cause of your tinnitus, we will recommend other treatment options or a symptom-management plan.
TINNITUS TEST: STEP-BY-STEP
During a tinnitus evaluation at one of our Louisville tinnitus and hearing loss clinics, an audiologist may administer:
- An in-depth written and verbal interview
- A complete physical examination of your auditory system
- A pure-tone and ultra–high-frequency audiometry test
- Speech reception and word recognition tests
- An otoacoustic emissions test
- Additional tests, studies, and evaluations as needed
Tinnitus Treatment Plans
There is no known cure for tinnitus, unless its underlying cause can be identified and treated. In recent years, however, audiologists have developed some outstanding tinnitus treatment programs and methods to help Kentucky patients with chronic tinnitus, including tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) and sound therapy.
TINNITUS RETRAINING THERAPY
Tinnitus counseling is at the core of TRT treatment, which aims to teach you about your condition and how retraining techniques and sound enrichment can alter the way you react to and perceive the sound of your tinnitus. If you and your audiologist determine that retraining therapy is the best option for treating your tinnitus, we’ll set up a counseling schedule for you. You can expect to visit one of our Louisville hearing clinics regularly as you begin TRT. The duration of tinnitus retraining differs from patient to patient, but the counseling is consistently effective for tinnitus patients in Kentucky and southern Indiana and is proven to work well in the short- and long-term.
WHAT TO EXPECT DURING TINNITUS RETRAINING THERAPY(h3)
- Counseling sessions with your audiologist, who will teach you more about what tinnitus is and how your perception of it affects the way you react to the sounds. As you progress, you’ll learn more about methods for changing how you perceive tinnitus. As your reactions to tinnitus are altered through counseling and education, you’ll become less and less aware of your symptoms.
- Sound enrichment is an important part of TRT that must be used 24-hours a day to mask your tinnitus. Avoiding silence is considered key to successful tinnitus treatment. It’s important to work with our knowledgeable and experienced audiologists, who will guide you as you find sounds that mask your tinnitus effectively but aren’t annoying or intrusive.
- Retraining exercises will begin a few sessions into your tinnitus therapy. These expertly developed tactics aim to reduce your reaction to your tinnitus, decrease your awareness of the sound and eventually eliminate any feelings of annoyance associated with tinnitus. Your audiologist will walk you through your exercises and help you implement them into your life during counseling and at home gradually over time.
Sound therapy is another treatment that Heuser Hearing Clinic audiologists often recommend for our Kentucky tinnitus patients. Sound therapy can be administered on its own, though it’s often used in conjunction with counseling to help you get the most from your tinnitus treatment. The basic idea of sound therapy is to mask the sound of your tinnitus using another more pleasant noise that covers up the ringing and distracts your brain from hearing tinnitus a majority of the time.
SOUND THERAPY METHODS
- Household appliances can prove helpful for patients with mild tinnitus looking for relief around the house and while sleeping. Helpful appliances include fans, air conditioners, humidifiers, fans, and other similar equipment.
- White noise machines produce random sounds across a wide spectrum of frequencies that can be programmed to your individual tinnitus symptoms. They are helpful in distracting your brain from hearing your tinnitus and allow you to adjust volume for use in many environments.
- Sound machines are available in a range of noises, though most feature sounds from nature such as rain, ocean waves, and birds. Your audiologist may recommend a sound machine if you have mild to moderate symptoms, especially if you don’t find white noise suitable or soothing.
- Hearing aids bring sound therapy directly to your ears, making them excellent for our Kentucky tinnitus patients who are always on the go, suffer from severe symptoms, or also have hearing loss. Today, several hearing aid manufacturers offer devices made specifically for patients with tinnitus, such as the ReSound LiNX TS. These hearing aids can be programmed specifically to your tinnitus’s pitch and volume for customizable treatment.
- Tonal pattern generators are gaining popularity in the world of sound therapy. These devices can be uniquely programmed for your tinnitus symptoms. They produce tonal patterns that have been developed through years of study and are proven to draw the brain’s attention away from tinnitus and alter your perception of and reaction to your tinnitus.
I HEAR A NOISE IN MY EARS, BUT IT DOESN’T SOUND LIKE RINGING. IS IT TINNITUS?
Tinnitus manifests most commonly as a ringing in the ears, but patients report many other sounds as well. Some examples of other sounds patients hear include buzzing, whistling, whooshing, roaring, sizzling, hissing, clicking, and chirping. If you’re hearing any type of sound in your ears, you should visit an audiologist for further diagnostic testing.
WHAT CAUSES TINNITUS?
Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a condition, and it can result from several underlying conditions. However, in a majority of cases, the cause of patients’ tinnitus is never identified. Known causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, noise exposure, Meniere’s disease, head or neck injury, TMJ disorder, hypertension, stress, migraines, excessive earwax, ototoxic medications, and acoustic neuromas.
IF YOU CAN’T FIND A CAUSE FOR MY TINNITUS, WHY SHOULD I GET AN ASSESSMENT?
It’s important to see a doctor if you’re experiencing tinnitus as it can indicate a more serious health problems in some cases. Although we may not be able to find the cause, going through the process to ensure you’re not damaging your hearing with ototoxic medication or experiencing a health condition is a good idea. Additionally, an assessment can help us determine what treatment options will work for you.
CAN OTHER PEOPLE OR MY AUDIOLOGIST HEAR MY TINNITUS?
In very rare cases, tinnitus is detectable to others. This is called objective tinnitus, which accounts for less than 1% of all cases. It’s much more likely that you’re suffering from subjective symptoms, meaning only you can hear them. Through a tinnitus assessment, we can determine the volume and pitch of the sound you’re hearing.
I USED TO EXPERIENCE TINNITUS EVERY ONCE AND A WHILE, BUT IT’S BECOMING MORE FREQUENT. WHAT SHOULD I DO?
Tinnitus can worsen over time, especially when it’s caused by an underlying condition that remains untreated. We recommend that anyone experiencing tinnitus see an otologist or audiologist for a tinnitus test. Even if you don’t feel like you need treatment, it’s important to establish a cause if possible.
WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS FOR TINNITUS?
If the condition causing your tinnitus is treatable, addressing that underlying cause may eliminate tinnitus symptoms. In many cases, however, we aren’t able to “cure” tinnitus. There are many treatment options that help patients learn to manage their symptoms and even retrain the brain to ignore the annoying sound. Tinnitus retraining therapy and sound therapy programs have proven highly effective in symptom management.