Tinnitus refers to an individual’s perception of a sound when there is no external sound source. Tinnitus can take many forms, such as ringing, buzzing, roaring, humming or hissing. It can be constant, intermittent, and can even vary in pitch and loudness. It can be bothersome to many, often times bringing an array of emotions, from simple annoyance and in severe cases, depression. Severe tinnitus can result in hearing difficulty, sleep disturbance, and impaired concentration and work performance.
Tinnitus has a number of causes, the most common being ear related changes, such as inner ear hair cell damage. The inner ear’s hair cells are tiny and delicate structures that are activated through pressure created from sound. These cells are responsible for triggering the release of electrical signals through the auditory nerve, where the sound you are experiencing can be decoded within your auditory cortex. Any damage to these hair cells, such can result in random signals being sent to the brain, where it is processed as sound even though there is no sound source.
There is no current evidence supporting medications or surgeries as an option of tinnitus treatment. However, amplification options such as hearing aids, have demonstrated improved outcomes for patients with tinnitus, effectively reducing the impact tinnitus can have. Specialized assessment, hearing aid programming and multimedia applications can be incorporated into daily routines and can help reduce the negative emotions and decreased quality of life that is so often associated with ‘ringing in the ears’.
Dr. Mortensen-Dewsnup, Au.D.