Tinnitus is a common problem, in particular among those with hearing loss. Over 70 percent of people with hearing loss experience some degree of tinnitus. For most people tinnitus is more an irritant than a major problem, but for some, tinnitus has major influence on their well-being and causes sleeping problems, anxiety and stress. Dr. Robert Sweetow, University of California San Francisco, has been working with tinnitus patients for over 30 years. In this video, Dr. Sweetow explains what tinnitus is and what can be done about it.
On this page:
- What causes tinnitus?
- What should I do if I have tinnitus?
- How will hearing experts treat my tinnitus?
- What can I do to help myself?
- What is the next step?
- Where can I find more information?
Do you hear a ringing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound in your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Does the sound bother you a lot? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have tinnitus (tin-NY-tus).
Tinnitus is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss. It can also be a symptom of other health problems. Roughly 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus. Some cases are so severe that it interferes with their daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.
Hearing loss. Most people who have tinnitus also have some kind of hearing loss.
Loud noise. Exposure to loud noise can cause permanent hearing loss and tinnitus. Continued exposure can make the tinnitus and hearing loss get worse.
Medicine. More than 200 medicines, including aspirin, can cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and you take medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist whether your medicine could be involved.
Other potential causes. Allergies, tumors, problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaws, and neck can cause tinnitus.
The first step is to see an Audiologist for an evaluation. A careful history and audiometric testing will lead to the most likely causes and best treatment for your tinnitus. You may be referred to an ear, nose and throat examination to complete the diagnosis.
Although there is no cure for tinnitus, Audiologists, scientists and doctors have discovered several treatments that may give you some relief. Not every treatment works for everyone, so you may need to try several to find the ones that help.
Treatments can include:
Hearing aids. Most people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing aids create a dual benefit of enhancing hearing and masking or covering up the tinnitus. The majority of patients with tinnitus receive partial or complete relief from their tinnitus with the use of hearing aids.
Maskers. Tinnitus maskers are small electronic devices that look like hearing aids and are tuned to generate sound that masks or covers up the tinnitus. Like hearing aids, they may provide relief from the tinnitus, but will not enhance hearing and may interfere with understanding speech.
Many types of devices, such as fans, radios and sound generators can be used as tinnitus maskers to help tinnitus sufferers to fall sleep or get back to sleep.
Medicine or drug therapy. Some tinnitus sufferers develop anxiety and other strong emotional responses to their tinnitus. Certain medicines may provide relief from these emotional reactions and provide some relief from the tinnitus. Other medicines and nutritional supplements have provided relief in some patients.
Neuromonics Tinnitus Therapy. This treatment uses a combination of testing, counseling and specialized masking to help you to effectively manage and gradually reduce your response to the tinnitus. This treatment can take six months or more to complete but has the highest rate of success.
Counseling. People with tinnitus may experience anxiety, depression and other psychiatric problems. You may be referred to a psychiatrist our counselor as needed.
Relaxing. Learning how to relax is very helpful if the noise in your ears frustrates you. Stress makes tinnitus seem worse. By relaxing, you have a chance to rest and better deal with the sound.
Think about things that will help you cope. Many people find listening to music very helpful. Focusing on music might help you forget about your tinnitus for a while. It can also help to mask the sound. Other people like to listen to recorded nature sounds, like ocean waves, the wind, or even crickets.
Avoid anything that can make your tinnitus worse, such as smoking, alcohol and loud noise. If you are a construction worker, an airport worker, or a hunter, or if you are regularly exposed to loud noise at home or at work, wear ear plugs or special earmuffs to protect your hearing and keep your tinnitus from getting worse.
If it is hard for you to hear over your tinnitus, ask your friends and family to face you when they talk so you can see their faces. Seeing their expressions may help you understand them better. Ask people to speak louder, but not shout. Also, tell them they do not have to talk slowly, just more clearly.
Schedule an appointment with an Audiologist to evaluate and discuss your Tinnitus.