Americans love to debate how to say certain words: Is “tomato” pronounced “tuh-MAY-toe” or “tuh-MAH-toe”? Does the “ee” in “creek” sound like “sneak” or “pick”? By the 1930s, this kind of debate had become so common that it was immortalized in the song “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” Now we can safely add another word to the list of popular debates: tinnitus.
If you search the web for ways to say “tinnitus,” you’ll find that dictionaries disagree, language experts disagree, and medical experts disagree, with passionate, well-reasoned defenses on all sides. How is anyone supposed to know the right answer?
At our practice, you can pronounce “tinnitus” however you’d like. Our concern is helping you get relief from your tinnitus — that persistent ringing, buzzing, or pulsing in your ears.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus affects more than 50 million Americans, but not everyone experiences it in the same way. Different people hear different sounds — ringing, pulsing, screeching, hissing, static, whooshing, roaring, even ocean waves. It often accompanies hearing loss, but there are many other things than can generate tinnitus. It’s not a disease; it’s a symptom of damage to the auditory system. It can be temporary or chronic, and it is often debilitating.
With temporary tinnitus, your auditory system has experienced some irritation, and tinnitus has resulted. Removing the irritation allows your auditory system to recover within a couple of days.
Temporary tinnitus is usually caused by:
- Exposure to loud noise, like you’d experience at a concert
- Taking too much ototoxic medication (medication that is toxic to the inner ear at high doses), such as aspirin
- Obstruction of the inner ear; for example, by earwax or a foreign object
Chronic tinnitus is just what it sounds like: The ringing, buzzing, or pulsing is permanent, and it’s present 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In many cases, it’s simply a distraction, but in others it’s debilitating.
Impact of Chronic Tinnitus
Chronic tinnitus can greatly affect quality of life. Those with moderate or severe tinnitus often experience:
- Trouble sleeping
- Economic hardship
It also affects the friends and family of those with tinnitus. The constant ringing or pulsing can make hearing difficult, so conversations can lead to frustration and irritability. If the tinnitus is accompanied — as it so often is — by sound sensitivity, then socializing at restaurants and family dinners is all the more troublesome.
Causes of Chronic Tinnitus
Chronic tinnitus has more foundational causes:
- Noise-induced or age-related hearing loss
- Head or neck trauma
- Vestibular disorders, such as Ménière’s disease
- TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder)
- TBI (traumatic brain injury)
Is There a Cure?
There is no cure for chronic tinnitus, but our patients have had success in minimizing its effects through a variety of methods, which include:
- Sound therapy. Traditional tinnitus therapy uses a tone or a pleasant sound, like ocean waves, to mask your tinnitus.
- Habituation. Sounds matched to your unique tinnitus are played back to you — often at levels you can’t hear — to partially inhibit your tinnitus.
- Hearing aids. Because most cases of tinnitus are connected in some way to hearing loss, hearing aids often provide relief.
- Combination. Many hearing aids now have built-in masking or habituation functionality, so they can address both your hearing loss and your tinnitus.