That Ringing In My Ear — That Hissing, Whistling, Pulsating Tone …
It’s called tinnitus, and for some, it’s a debilitating experience.
What Is Tinnitus?
Though the common misconception about tinnitus is that it’s a disease, tinnitus is actually a medical condition characterized by persistent ringing in one or both ears that can only be heard by the affected individual.
Many who suffer from tinnitus describe the annoying sound as ringing in the ear, but a whistling, hissing, buzzing, or pulsing sound is also possible. For some, these sounds come and go. But most are not that lucky, and will experience symptoms 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
These phantom sounds may cause only a slight annoyance, or they may severely disrupt everyday life. The American Tinnitus Association estimates more than 50 million Americans suffer from at least occasional bouts of tinnitus.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There are a number of causes, with the most common being exposure to loud noise for a prolonged period of time. In this case, your hearing may be temporarily or permanently damaged, depending upon the severity of the sound.
We can’t always tell whether your temporary damage will become permanent, but tinnitus is usually representative of an inner-ear problem. Tinnitus research is ongoing, and the mechanisms that cause tinnitus in the brain and inner ear are being more closely studied. Some possible causes are:
In rare cases, tinnitus may be caused by a blood vessel disorder, resulting in pulsatile tinnitus. This type of tinnitus may be caused by a head or neck tumor, a buildup of cholesterol in the circulatory system, high blood pressure, turbulent blood flow, or malformation of the capillaries surrounding the ear. The result is a tinnitus that sends out pulsing signals in conjunction with the flow of your heartbeat.
Is There a Cure?
There is currently no cure for tinnitus. We will work with you to identify potential causes for your specific symptoms, and there may be a way to reduce the impact of tinnitus on your daily life. In some instances, changes to your diet or medications may help with your symptoms. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, can also help alleviate the constant ringing in your ears.
What Are the Treatment Options for Tinnitus?
Comprehensive audiologic and tinnitus testing in our office and an evaluation by an otologist will rule out possible medical factors that could be causing or contributing to your tinnitus. Because your tinnitus symptoms are personal and unique in nature, an in-depth evaluation will help us create a specialized treatment plan for you.
Although there isn’t a single cure for tinnitus, our audiologists have the knowledge and experience to provide you with treatment methods that can help lessen the impact that tinnitus has on your life. In many cases, the distressing combination of tinnitus and hearing loss can be relieved with AGX® hearing technology.
The number-one treatment for tinnitus for those who also experience hearing loss is the use of a personal hearing system, which can improve your hearing and often reduce or eliminate your perception of tinnitus. There are a number of treatment options, including:
AGX hearing technology: The top treatment for those who experience hearing loss, which can both improve overall hearing ability and eliminate the perception of ringing.
Masking: An electronic device called a masker may be worn to distract from the ringing sensation. Maskers fit in the ear similarly to hearing aids and produce low-level sounds. In addition, bedside sound generators and other devices can also help remove the perception of ringing.
Progressive Tinnitus Management (PTM): PTM is a method that is successfully used in our practice in conjunction with a take-home workbook and audio files or a CD. PTM was developed at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research (NCRAR) at the Portland VA Medical Center where Dr. Shannon formerly worked with pioneers in the field of tinnitus. This method is “progressive” because not everyone needs the same level of assistance. Some people with tinnitus only need basic questions answered. Other people need a little more help, and still others need a great deal of intervention. With PTM, sound is used to manage reactions to tinnitus. However, PTM differs from the sound-based methods listed above. PTM teaches various ways to use sound to manage tinnitus, as well as to teach ways to change one’s thoughts and feelings when coping with tinnitus.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: A type of counseling that helps to change the body’s emotional reaction to tinnitus by altering negative thought patterns and helping to relieve stress.
What is hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is defined as a reduced tolerance of everyday sounds. The limbic and autonomic nervous systems are a secondary function. Our desensitization therapy allows the brain to be retrained to perceive sounds at their appropriate intensities.
It should be noted that hyperacusis is different from phonophobia, which is the fear of sound. Phonophobia can be helped through a sound therapy protocol in conjunction with mindfulness or other therapy approaches such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT). Hyperacusis patients may also benefit from using these therapies as well.
Is hyperacusis curable?
The good news is that hyperacusis is almost completely alleviated through a sound therapy treatment protocol. If you think that you or a loved one has hyperacusis, you should seek an appointment with one of our experienced audiologists. A comprehensive audiologic including uncomfortable Loudness Levels (UCLs) will provide us with important information.
If we find evidence of hyperacusis, we will suggest different ways of treating the condition so you can manage it properly.
How is hyperacusis treated?
The method of sound desensitization is often used to treat hyperacusis. Sound desensitization involves daily use of sound therapy using ear level devices that are worn in or behind the ears. The devices feed different types of customized and ambient sounds into your ears. They are designed to provide consistent exposure to low levels of sound as you continue to take in noise from the outside world. Since hyperacusis generally impacts both ears, sound therapy is normally provided for each ear.
Although there is no instant cure or medicine for hyperacusis treatment, therapy can enhance an individual’s quality of life by lowering their anxieties surrounding sound, helping them to acclimate to unpleasant sounds, and making sounds seem less overbearing. Our goal is to help those with hyperacusis feel comfort with the sounds around them again.
At Hudson Valley Audiology, we are here to address your symptoms head on in order to help you get back to living your life.
Should I use earplugs to help my hyperacusis?
While most people want silence when suffering from hyperacusis, it is not recommended for them to surround themselves with complete silence. We discourage the use of ear plugs and hearing protection to treat hyperacusis unless absolutely necessary. Use of ear plugs often increases sensitivity to sound once they are removed. By adding a soft level sound to the environment, we can increase a person’s tolerance for sounds.