What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a sound in your ears that only you can hear. Many people describe it as a ringing, hissing, buzzing, or clicking sound. It is most commonly high pitched but some people may experience a low pitched tinnitus sound. Some people experience a constant tinnitus, others may experience an intermittent ringing, and others have a pulsatile tinnitus.
If you are suffering from this you are not alone. It is estimated that one in four Australians experience tinnitus.
What causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be caused by high levels of stress and anxiety, hearing loss, high noise exposure, medications, earwax blockage, and different illnesses including Covid-19. If your tinnitus is pulsatile, additional causes may include a vascular origin (if the tinnitus synchronises with the heartbeat), or involuntary muscle jerks in the middle ear or palatal muscles (if the tinnitus is asynchronous to your heart beat).
As there are so many different causes, many people may never know what originally started their tinnitus. The best option is to undergo a full health check with your GP and to visit an audiologist for a hearing test.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure for tinnitus. This is a condition that people have to live with. However, don’t lose hope! There are still many ways the audiologist can help you to make the process easier and to live a healthy, happy lifestyle.
Common Concerns about Tinnitus:
- Does having tinnitus damage my hearing and will it make me go completely deaf one day?
No! Tinnitus may make you feel distracted which can make it harder to follow a conversation which may make it seem like your hearing is getting worse. But the good news is tinnitus itself cannot damage your hearing and will not make your hearing worse. However, tinnitus is often the result of hearing loss, so go and get your hearing checked.
- Is tinnitus a sign of a serious health issue?
Tinnitus is a very common condition and can be caused by many different things. Your best option is to speak to your GP and your audiologist. Most of the time tinnitus is not a sign of something serious happening in your body, but is generally caused by hearing loss or high levels of stress.
- I feel like tinnitus is going to drive me mad one day!
Tinnitus can be difficult to cope with and very distressing when it first starts, but it will get better!
This is the tinnitus forecast graph from the IDA Institute. It shows us the difference between presence and intrusiveness. For the majority of people, tinnitus is always present, and only fluctuates mildly from day to day based on multiple factors including stress, noise exposure, and the environment that the person is in. This is the orange line on the graph. The blue line shows the intrusiveness of tinnitus. When it first begins, people are very distressed and concerned. You might have questions about why this is happening and what’s causing it, or how to make it stop. As time goes on, you get used to the tinnitus sound, and the distress reduces, helping you improve your quality of life. The majority of people habituate to their tinnitus within the first 18 months. Speaking to an audiologist to create a management plan will help you habituate.
What happens in a Tinnitus Appointment?
So you have tinnitus and it’s time to see an audiologist. You’ve never been to one before, so what should you expect? The audiologist will start by asking you lots of questions about your tinnitus. This helps them determine a possible cause for you. Next they might ask you to fill out a questionnaire about your tinnitus. This helps the audiologist see what areas you are struggling in the most, and how severe your tinnitus is. Then it’s time for your full hearing assessment. They will check the health of your outer, middle, and inner ear and explain the results to you.
How will the audiologist help me manage my tinnitus?
Based on your answers to their questions and your hearing results, the audiologists may recommend a number of things. These include:
- Trying a hearing aid if you have a hearing loss - this often helps reduce your tinnitus sound and you can use the tinnitus features in the hearing aids, and you’re combating your hearing difficulties at the same time!
- See an ENT, physio, pain clinic, dentist, or psychologist - based on your results it may be recommended to see a number of other specialists to determine the cause of your tinnitus or to manage it!
- Learn relaxation techniques - Tinnitus and stress go through the same brain pathways. So when our stress gets worse, this worsens the tinnitus, which might make us even more stressed! So it’s important to break this cycle and learn about stress reduction and relaxation to reduce tinnitus.
- Manage your sleep - If your sleep is affected by tinnitus, the audiologist will help you manage your sleep. A good sleep can reduce your tinnitus too!
- Use sound therapy - Using different sounds to help distract your brain from your tinnitus can often help. The audiologist will assist you with this.
I’ve booked my appointment, what can I do for now?
So you’ve booked your appointment with the audiologist to work on your tinnitus. But right now it’s still very annoying so what can you do?
Relaxation at Home:
Stress and anxiety can make your tinnitus seem louder. Relaxation techniques including breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, or yoga can help you relax to reduce the loudness of your tinnitus. If you don’t know where to start, there are plenty of free apps available to help you with meditation and relaxation.
If your tinnitus seems louder at quiet times including during the night, sound therapy might help. Gentle background music or natural sounds give your brain something external to listen to, removing the focus from the internal tinnitus sound. You can access free audiologist designed sounds through this website (http://www.envirosounds.com/bg...). The key is to pick a sound that is soothing to you and to play it in the background gently. Do not make it so loud that you cannot have a conversation or cannot sleep. It should be very soft. It’s okay if you can hear your tinnitus and the background sound! Other common things people do is turn on the fan or the air conditioner. The soft wind sound is often enough to mask their tinnitus so they can sleep.
How Hearing SA can help:
Our audiologists can assess the nature of your tinnitus and create an individualised management plan. If you want to know more please contact us on 0403 690 980.
Extra Resources for Tinnitus Management:
There is a huge amount of information about tinnitus available, but it can be difficult to know who to trust. In the document below, we have compiled a list of reliable sources you can use if you want more information about tinnitus or its management.