Tinnitus occurs when you hear sound that no one else hears, and is one of the most frustrating but frequently encountered problems related to the ears. The quality of the sound is variable and includes sounds described as blowing, buzzing, whistling, chirping, or humming. The sound can be steady, or oscillating. Surprisingly, it is not uncommon for patients to describe it as sounding like crickets or cicadas. Most patients find that the tinnitus is most noticeable when they are not distracted by other activities or when in a quiet environment, such as at bedtime.
Many patients with hearing loss experience tinnitus. Tinnitus is often the first symptom a patient with hearing loss notices, and it can occur with even mild hearing loss. It’s important to note that the hearing loss can be either conductive or sensorineural.
Treatment options are based upon the cause of the tinnitus. Identifying the specific cause of tinnitus may require extensive testing, and even then the cause may remain unknown. Sometimes, tinnitus can be the result of a metabolic disorder that can be treated medically, but this is the exception to the rule. In some cases, surgery can restore the hearing, which may reduce the tinnitus. Much more often, the most effective treatment for tinnitus is to treat any associated hearing loss. In cases in which the hearing loss is not surgically correctable, a hearing aid is often the most effective treatment.
Other treatment options include “masking” strategies, or Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). Tinnitus maskers are devices that look like hearing aids that produce a broad spectrum of “white noise” in the ear that “masks” or suppresses awareness of tinnitus. Maskers can be used for patients without significant hearing loss. TRT is a unique type of therapy that combines cognitive therapy, habituation, and biofeedback to suppress the awareness of the tinnitus, and reduce the association of tinnitus awareness and emotional distress. TRT is offered in limited venues and may require significant time commitments to be successful. More information on tinnitus.