Talking with a loved one about hearing loss

How to help those you care about get the help they need

Tinnitus is an annoying sound in one or both ears that is frequently described as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, whooshing or clicking. It is extremely common, affecting about 20% of the population. For some people it is a mild distraction, while others find it a great nuisance that interferes with their daily routine.

Tinnitus is defined as a symptom rather than a condition. There is no cure, but symptoms can be managed effectively through a variety of treatments.

Treatment depends on the cause.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can result from a number of conditions. It is most often associated with aging, noise exposure, infections, allergies, medications, diseases or foreign objects in the ears. When the underlying cause is known, treating that condition may help stop tinnitus from occurring. The solution may be as simple as removing excess earwax or switching to a new medication.

In some cases, the exact cause may be a mystery or the condition responsible for tinnitus may be untreatable.

Tinnitus Treatment Techniques

The most widely accepted (and successful) method of treating tinnitus involves the use of white noise therapy. White noise is a distribution of random sound frequencies across the hearing spectrum that draws the brain’s attention away from the distracting background noise. This allows patients to tune out their tinnitus. Special electronic devices designed to transmit white noise can be used, but you can achieve the same effect by using an air conditioner, fan or humidifier.

A newer approach known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy combines counseling and education with sound therapy. Patients learn about the causes and effects of tinnitus and different strategies for coping. They rely on low-level sound generators that produce soft tonal patterns, which encourage the brain to shift its focus away from the sounds associated with tinnitus.

Another useful tool in treating tinnitus is the use of hearing aids. Patients who wear them can simply turn up the volume to mask distracting background noises.