You may have heard of tinnitus — or perhaps you’re hearing it right now. Approximately 50 to 60 million U.S. adults report hearing a ringing, hissing, or whistling regularly in one or both ears.
Though tinnitus is usually not medically measurable and there is no cure, there are plenty of hearing health solutions that make life a little bit easier for those who suffer from it.
The prevalence of tinnitus tends to increase with age and peaks among adults in their 60s, but some younger adults are now suffering from debilitating tinnitus with no idea where it may have come from. The origin of an individual’s tinnitus is not always obvious, but we know from research on the subject that four in five individuals affected by tinnitus also have a hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, there is no doubt that tinnitus adds to the stress of everyday life.
Recent research from the University of Illinois suggests that this stress, anxiety, and irritability could be altering how tinnitus sufferers process their emotions. Using MRI scans to show which areas of the brain actively respond to auditory stimulation, researchers found that those with tinnitus showed less activity than normal-hearing people in the emotionalprocessing area of the brain, but more activity than normalhearing people in two other regions associated with emotion.
The findings suggested to researchers that the amygdala had become less active because of the annoying sound, and that perhaps other areas of the brain had become more active to make up for that. This may have translated to an altered emotional state due to how the brain processes emotions.
Until we know more about tinnitus and its links to brain processing, we can safely say tinnitus is most commonly triggered by loud noise that results in hearing loss, a head or neck injury, or jaw dysfunction. Tinnitus is sometimes only temporary — after initial exposure to loud noises, for instance. Repeated exposure to sounds greater than 85 decibels (dB) can lead to hearing loss, tinnitus, or both. But there are effective treatments that can alleviate even the worst symptoms.
COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT)
CBT counseling sessions promote relaxation techniques that restructure the way patients think about and respond to tinnitus, and that can result in sounds that are significantly less bothersome.
TINNITUS RETRAINING THERAPY
This combination of counseling and sound therapy helps habituate the auditory system to tinnitus signals.
This involves the use of a device that generates low-level noise and environmental sounds matching the pitch and volume of the tinnitus.
Though there are many other treatment methods that we can discuss with you, it’s important to note that websites claiming to have a tinnitus cure are unlikely to be reliable, because right now there is no medically identified cure for tinnitus. But you can get the help you need by discussing your symptoms with our hearing care providers.