What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a condition in which the patient hears (or rather perceives) noises even though there is no external source producing those sounds. These noises can be loud or soft and can differ in quality from patient to patient. Most tinnitus-related sounds can fall into the categories of ringing, roaring, whistling, buzzing, clicking, or hissing. Naturally as these sounds do not originate from any external source, others around the patient are not able to hear these sounds.
Tinnitus can accompany hearing loss, or it can strike on its own. The patient can ‘hear’ these noises in one ear or in both the ears or in the head. For a large number of tinnitus-afflicted people, these sounds last no longer than a few minutes. In some cases though the patient suffers constant or frequently recurring tinnitus that begins to bring down their everyday quality of life by causing insomnia, low concentration, and negative feelings such as despair, irritation and depression. Such patients usually need to seek treatment from an ENT physician.
Even though, most of the times, tinnitus occurs without any specifically identifiable cause, it can afflict in the following cases:
- Hearing loss
- Exposure to loud noises
- Head injury
- Side effects of medication
- Hyper- or hypotension (high/low blood pressure)
- Wax accumulation inside the ear canal
- Fluid accumulation behind the tympanic membrane (ear drum)
- Conditions linked to heart, blood vessels, neck, jaw, or teeth
Determination of treatment options for tinnitus first requires finding out what’s causing it. Unfortunately, for most tinnitus cases, no surgical or medical treatments are available as yet. However, some amount of relief can be made possible through tinnitus management strategies.
These are the various tinnitus treatment/ management options available to your ENT physician:
- Hearing aids – As tinnitus often accompanies hearing loss, hearing aids can help by making the ringing, buzzing or whistling sounds less noticeable, and hence less bothersome. Hearing aids heighten levels of background noise. Plus, as incoming speech sounds become clearer and more legible, ease of communication also goes up.
- Sound generators – These tiny generators work as tinnitus sound masking devices and generate agreeable broadband, shower-like sound that goes directly into the ear of the patient to drown out tinnitus. Worn behind the ear, these feature adjustable sound control. Sound generators are also a part of tinnitus retraining therapy that also uses individualised counselling to help the patient manage their condition better.
- Combination instruments – Most suitable for the patients afflicted by both hearing loss and tinnitus, these two-in-one instruments house a hearing aid as well as a sound generator in a single, compact unit to bring relief from co-existing conditions.
- Relaxation techniques – It is a recognised fact that stress worsens tinnitus sensations. Relaxation techniques work as de-stressors and help people manage their tinnitus symptoms more effectively.
- Other treatment options – Professional help can be sought from trained psychologists through cognitive behavioural or acceptance theory that teaches people to learn to pay less attention to their tinnitus noises. When patients learn to manage their stresses and anxieties that tinnitus evokes, they are able to cope better too. If tinnitus is rooted in dental issues such as teeth clenching and grinding (also called temporomandibular disorder (TMD) and located in the area where the lower jaw and skull meet), a dentist can help manage the problem. As tinnitus can also arise due to problems in movement of jaw, neck, and head, a physical therapist can also help. First by identifying the problem, and secondly, by providing therapy to restore correct posture and movement of head, neck and jaw and thereby reduce the impact of tinnitus.
Yes, indeed. Tinnitus patients can take the following measures to slow down the worsening of tinnitus:
- Stop consumption of alcohol
- Stop smoking or using any kind of tobacco products
- Minimize exposure to loud sounds and noises (you can use earplugs to protect your ear if you live or work in a loud environment)