Tinnitus: What you can do about the ringing in your ears
What is tinnitus?
Many people suffer from a condition called tinnitus in which their ears ring throughout the day. The ringing begins out of nowhere, can last for a few seconds at a time, and has the potential to return as the day goes along.
Laura Fragomeni, AuD, an audiologist at Reid Health, explains what you should know about tinnitus and what treatment options are available.
"The exact definition of tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present," Dr. Fragomeni said. "It's a symptom of other underlying health conditions. It is described by patients as a ringing sound or a buzzing sound, roaring, rushing, clicking. There are all kinds of different ways people perceive this phenomenon and describe it."
What causes tinnitus?
There isn't a single answer for what causes tinnitus because everyone has a unique case. In some instances, it's believed to be the result of hearing loss.
"One of the most common things associated with tinnitus is hearing loss," Dr. Fragomeni said. "Even a small amount of hearing loss that might not be detectable yet can be enough to present this sound.
"In those cases, the cause is thought to reside in the brain itself. The brain is trying to compensate and fill in the gaps where damage is occurring."
When should you visit an audiologist?
People often are unsure whether they should get their symptoms checked by a professional because it can be hard to determine the best time to seek help. If your tinnitus is hurting your quality of life or causing problems with daily activities, you should get an exam sooner rather than later. If it pops up from time to time but isn't extremely bothersome, you may decide it's not an urgent a priority.
"I would encourage anyone to seek out an audiologist if their tinnitus is distressing in any way, shape, or form," Dr. Fragomeni said.
"Everyone experiences tinnitus at some point in our life. Usually, it's brief in nature and doesn't interfere with day-to-day activities. For others, it's more persistent, more bothersome, and can cause quite a bit of distress."
Tinnitus can be treated in several ways. Your options largely depend on how severe the condition is and what you're comfortable with trying. Audiologists generally attempt to work with the patient to determine the best possible treatment.
"One great way of helping someone with tinnitus if hearing loss is present is to address the hearing loss itself with hearing aids," Dr. Fragomeni said.
"Those who don't have hearing loss go through a cognitive-behavioral approach, which is more therapeutic and 'retrains' the brain to not fall under the trap of tinnitus cues. Another method that can be used or combined with others is sound therapy to help you relax."