Gaining an understanding of tinnitus is an important step in the journey of managing it. Read here to learn more about tinnitus and how it can be managed.
February 2021, 12th
Tinnitus is the perception of noise or sound when there is no external sound present. It can occur in one or both ears, and may be quiet or loud. While some people may experience tinnitus every now and then, most people report it to be a constant presence. Many people describe tinnitus as a buzzing, ringing, whooshing or cricket-like sound in the ears, however, the perception of tinnitus is different for everyone. For some people, the sound and intensity of their tinnitus can also change over time.
Tinnitus is more common than you may think. In fact, around 10 - 15% of the adult population experiences it at some point in their lives. Men are more likely than women to experience tinnitus. For many people, the experience of tinnitus does not significantly impact their life. However, for around 1 - 2% of people, tinnitus causes long-term and even severe distress.
Objective tinnitus is the least common type. The sound of objective tinnitus may be a pulsatile (pulsing) or rhythmic noise and is often caused by problems with blood vessels in the head, neck or middle ear. It can sometimes be heard by other people during a medical assessment if it is loud enough. This type of tinnitus may be resolved with medical treatment.
Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus. As mentioned above, it may sound like a buzzing, roaring, hissing or clicking, although it can sound different for everybody. The duration, loudness and pitch people experience are also different for each person. There are many causes of subjective tinnitus.
When you visit a medical professional, your head and neck may be examined to rule out an underlying cause for your tinnitus. You may also see an audiologist for a hearing test. Oftentimes, it will not be possible to determine a specific cause of your tinnitus.
Since tinnitus cannot be assessed directly, an audiologist may use special tests to get an understanding of what your tinnitus sounds like. These may include pitch matching and loudness matching, which gives the audiologist information about your tinnitus. You may also be asked to fill out some questionnaires about your tinnitus and how it affects your life.
Unfortunately, most types of tinnitus cannot be cured. However, there are many effective management options available. The most effective strategies focus on teaching you how to allow your tinnitus to bother you less in everyday life.
Helpful strategies include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), mindfulness and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). The use of hearing aids (if you also have hearing loss) and sound therapy machines are also helpful tools to reduce the effects of tinnitus. Small lifestyle changes like managing stress, optimising sleep, and reducing your consumption of caffeine, alcohol and nicotine can also have a positive impact on your tinnitus.
A medical evaluation is sometimes required to rule out underlying health conditions that might be causing your tinnitus. If your tinnitus has a sudden onset, is only in one ear, or is associated with episodes of dizziness or changes in hearing, seek consultation from your doctor. An audiologist can also refer you for a medical assessment to a specialist ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor.
While in most cases tinnitus doesn't threaten your health, it can cause significant distress and affect your mental health and quality of life. For example, severe tinnitus can be linked to depression, anxiety, fatigue, poor concentration and difficulties with memory. If you or a loved one experience tinnitus that is more than a minor annoyance, don’t suffer in silence. There are many effective management strategies you can try. You can also check out our blog on tinnitus management options for ideas.
To learn more about your tinnitus, and how to better manage it to live a fuller life, try downloading Tinnibot. Tinnibot is an online virtual companion that works with you through your tinnitus journey. Tinnibot is equipped with loads of tools and helpful advice to equip you to better manage your tinnitus.