Tips for Managing Tinnitus

Tinnitus is commonly known as “ringing in the ears.” It affects some 50 million Americans, most of whom experience it in a high-pitched tone that only they can hear. It may come and go, or remain constant. Environmental sounds can often mask it, but for many people who experience it along with hearing loss, it may be present all day long.

In addition to ringing sounds, tinnitus may also appear as:

  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Screeching
  • Chainsaw-like sound

Tinnitus is a symptom, not a problem in itself. As such, it may have a variety of underlying causes. By far the most common are excessive noise exposure and certain medications. Stress may also be a factor. Tinnitus is the #1 medical concern affecting veterans returning from active duty, which points to the combination of high stress and noise exposure.

Tinnitus is commonly experienced with hearing loss, and new research suggests that it may be a kind of damaged nerve “leaking” sound to the brain, much in the way that we can feel pain in a phantom limb.

Some causes of tinnitus are curable, such as a perforation in the eardrum, excess wax buildup, infections, high blood pressure, or medications that can be discontinued. When these problems are addressed, tinnitus may go away.

For many people, tinnitus is a permanent fact of life. While some people are not bothered by it, others may only be annoyed at certain times of the day. Trying to sleep with tinnitus can be difficult for some people. Others may experience negative effects on their day-to-day life, including mental health issues. Some people have experienced positive results from meditation that encourage them to view tinnitus not as an invasive enemy but as a benign companion.

If you have tinnitus, please consider the tips below for managing your symptoms.

Visit Your Doctor

While most tinnitus is benign, it’s important to do due diligence and find out if your tinnitus has a curable cause, or maybe a sign of a more serious underlying condition. Your doctor may refer you to a hearing care professional, an otologist (ear doctor), or an otolaryngologist (ENT – ear, nose, and throat specialist). If you are on prescription medications, tinnitus may be a side effect. Don’t skip this tip! It could save your hearing—or your life.

Check Your Meds

There are over 1,000 substances associated with tinnitus. Prescription drugs, OTC drugs, herbal supplements, household chemicals, and substances you may encounter in the workplace may contribute to tinnitus. The Center for Hearing Loss Help website contains useful information about chemical causes of tinnitus.

Masking

Masking is often the best treatment for tinnitus. William Shatner, who famously suffers from tinnitus ever since an accidental explosion on the set of Star Trek, has said that masking is the only way he experiences relief.

Sound is a relative phenomenon. When we’re in a crowded room, most of us will not hear our tinnitus because there is a lot of environmental sounds to cover it up. (Conversely, tinnitus does not mask the environmental sound.) If we’re annoyed by tinnitus, we can introduce environmental sound.

While you can use sound-generating devices, there are about as many ways of masking as there are cases of tinnitus. It’s really about what works for you. Some people like to turn on a fan, others use the sound of a fan from a YouTubeTM video. Some use apps that provide the sounds of nature, while others like to put on TV shows they’ve seen before and can easily tune out.

Hearing Aids

While hearing aids are not recommended for those who have tinnitus without hearing loss, they are recommended for anyone with mild hearing loss or higher. Mild hearing loss is defined as 20–25 dBHL (decibels hearing level) of loss at critical speech frequencies. Many people find that wearing hearing aids increases the volume of environmental sound such that it can mask their tinnitus. Some hearing aids even have tinnitus-masking sounds built-in that you can switch on and off as you like.

De-Stress

Tinnitus seems to be tied to blood pressure, as is stress. Reducing stress helps some people to reduce or alleviate tinnitus. We know it’s much easier to say “reduce your stress” than to do so, but if you can identify some key stressors in your life and limit your engagement with them, it may be helpful for your tinnitus—and other aspects of your well-being.

Sound therapy, mindfulness-based therapy, and other interventions can help people to live comfortably with tinnitus and reduce stress at the same time, which is a win-win!  If you or someone you love may have hearing loss and/or tinnitus, make an appointment for a hearing test and receive the treatment you need to live life to the fullest!