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Dr. Roxanne Borukhov
When you think about audiology and audiologists you probably think about the people and science dedicated to improving the hearing of the sounds all around us.
It’s true that audiologists routinely prescribe and fit hearing aids to help people get the most of their hearing, but did you know that audiologists also help people that hear sounds that aren’t present in the environment?
Tinnitus describes the condition where a person hears sounds that aren’t present in the environment. Audiologists treat this condition daily.
Tinnitus is commonly referred to as ringing in the ears. But not everyone that experiences tinnitus hears a ringing noise. Whistling, roaring, screeching and chirping are all different ways people with tinnitus have described the sound they hear. What defines tinnitus is that the person perceives a noise that isn’t present. Tinnitus is not simply a disease itself, but it is a symptom of an underlying condition. Since every person experiences tinnitus differently, treatment is highly individualized. What works for one person may not be effective for another.
Tinnitus is more common than you think. About 15 percent of people will experience tinnitus during their lifetime. Over 80 percent of people with tinnitus have hearing loss, and it may not be detected until they seek treatment for the tinnitus. Sadly, only about 20 percent of people with tinnitus seek treatment.
While much has been learned about tinnitus and its causes, it is still not fully understood. The most common theories about tinnitus are centered on a relationship between damage to normal hearing activity and how the brain reacts to this reduced auditory input. Audiologists researching tinnitus study what happens in the brain while sounds are processed. Current research indicates that when auditory input is limited (less sound coming in), activity in the brain increases instead of decreasing. This means the brains of people with hearing loss are working extra hard to process signals that aren’t there.
Stress can have an affect the degree of tinnitus experienced. As stress levels increase, so does the tinnitus. Treatment of tinnitus often includes helping the patient feel less anxious and stressed by the tinnitus. Research has discovered that not only does music serve to mask the tinnitus, but it also relieves stress; helping tinnitus on two different fronts!
Audiology has developed many treatments for tinnitus. Since most people with tinnitus have hearing loss, the use of hearing aids is a highly effective treatment for tinnitus. The increased auditory signals stimulate the brain and decrease the perception of tinnitus.
Audiologists also prescribe the use of masking devices to create “white noise.” The white noise masks the tinnitus much as music does and brings relief. These white noise devices can be worn around the neck or may sit on a tabletop. Even a fan can be used to generate white noise.
In addition to devices, audiologists provide counseling to decrease the impact of a person’s tinnitus on the quality of their life. This is known as cognitive-behavioral therapy. In patients that are severely distressed anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication may be necessary.
If you have tinnitus there is no need to suffer. Contact an audiologist today for a consultation.