Over 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus, or ringing in ears, which is the perception of sound without an external source being present. Tinnitus is treatable with several treatment options.
Tinnitus is used to describe a noise or the perception of noise and occasionally even a noise from your ear that someone else can hear as well. It is very common and in most cases tends to be temporary. It can range from barely noticeable to being very disruptive to everyday life. It is often a high-pitched buzz or ring, but can also sound like a heart beat, clicking, thumping or whooshing.
The most common causes of tinnitus is noise exposure and hearing loss. It can also be caused by illness, damage to or disease in the ear, exposure to medications, tumors, muscle spasms, changes in blood flow and even something as simple as ear wax.
When you visit with your doctor, possible sources of the noise will be investigated. This can be done with a hearing test, examination of the ears and balance and occasionally radiographic studies such as an MRI or CT scan. If a cause is determined, occasionally it can require surgery or medications for correction. Most frequently the exact cause cannot be isolated and the focus is mainly on helping to cope with the noise.
After your doctor has been able to rule out the worrisome causes of tinnitus, the goal is to help make it as unnoticeable as possible. Unfortunately there is no cure for tinnitus in most cases and it becomes a matter of trial and error to find the most helpful intervention. It often seems loudest in quiet settings and especially when trying to go to sleep. The first and easiest change is to have noise in the background for your brain to focus on such as a fan, music, water, or anything that makes a noise that is less annoying than the ringing in your ears. If you have one ear that tends to be the source, be sure to try and sleep with that ear uncovered so you are able to hear the background noises. The noises give your brain something else to focus on and makes the tinnitus less noticeable. If you have hearing loss, hearing aids can often help in a similar fashion by allowing you to better hear the noises around you. Except for certain instances, medications and supplements have not been shown to be helpful in focused studies.
For patients who have failed more conservative therapy, another simple intervention that has been shown to help is cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT). CBT is a learned process of changing the thoughts and responses that we tend to have to stimuli. In normal terms, it means you change your thought process and response to the tinnitus so it becomes less of a problem. Licensed therapists or other mental health professionals are best trained to help with this process, but unfortunately it often isn't covered by insurance. Here are some books that can help you make improvement on your own. There are many others that can be found on the internet, but these are a few to get started.
How to Manage Your Tinnitus: A Step-by-Step Workbook Third edition James A. Henry, PhD Tara L. Zaugg, AuD Paula J. Myers, PhD Caroline J. Kendall, PhD. The PDF of this book is available online for free. Click the link above to be redirected. Print copies are more difficult to come by.
American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Sugery (AAO-HNS) - For even more information on tinnitus from the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Sugery (AAO-HNS)