What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound within the human ear when no actual sound is present. Tinnitus is not a disease, but a condition that is often the result from a wide range of underlying causes such as medications, or a circulatory system disorder. While sometimes this can contribute to, or cause the perception of ringing in the ears, majority of the time, tinnitus is associated with hearing loss. If the cause of the hearing loss can be remedied the tinnitus is often reduced or even resolved.

The cause of tinnitus appears to be quite complex. As someone begins to develop hearing loss, the brain may begin to substitute for the loss of sound information. This substitution is the perceived ringing or buzzing referred to as tinnitus. While not all patients with hearing loss develop tinnitus, a substantial number of patients do.

The most important response to tinnitus is learning what it is, what contributes to it, and what can be done to help manage it. If the tinnitus is due to hearing loss, and the hearing loss cannot be resolved or improved with medical or surgical treatment, then the patient has several options to manage it. A careful review of medication may reveal a possible contributor, and if appropriate, the medication can be stopped or substituted. Because many cases of tinnitus are associated with hearing loss, the use of hearing protection and avoidance of loud noise may help prevent the onset, and or the progression of hearing loss. However, the use of sound to mask the tinnitus is a common practice, and sound generators are commonly recommended to help reduce the burden and intrusiveness of tinnitus.

While many medications and dietary supplements have been tried, success with most have been mixed. While recently Melatonin and Ginkgo biloba have been reported as having some success in helping with tinnitus, further research is needed to help determine how these help tinnitus, and who will benefit most from their use. Interestingly, getting a better night’s sleep seems to make tinnitus less bothersome, and melatonin, often taken to help improve sleep, may work in this way.

If you have tinnitus, the importance of an appropriate and timely evaluation cannot be understated. The physicians and audiologists at the Shea Ear Clinic and Shea Hearing Aid Center have the experience, expertise and tools to help you understand and manage your tinnitus, and we welcome the chance to assist you.