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Posted on Monday, August 20, 2012

Tinnitus: A Symptom of Hearing Loss

Female ear in profile. Tinnitus may be a symptom of hearing loss.

26 million Americans suffer from a condition called tinnitus, a buzzing, whistling, whining, or screeching noise in head or ears when there is no corresponding noise present. In many cases this condition is a symptom of a bigger problem, like hearing loss, and correcting this underlying issue can help to alleviate the symptom. It seems counterintuitive, but studies confirm that in many cases tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss and using a hearing aid to increase hearing can and does help relieve the phantom noises.

The buzzing, clicking, and whining sounds associated with tinnitus may be a symptom related to hearing loss, and a reintroduction of sound can help to dissipate these phantom noises.

Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas is quoted as saying, "I don't know what silence sounds like any more." The persistent invasion of phantom sounds is common to many people. According to the American Tinnitus Association, determining the cause of and coping with these insidious phantom noises can cause intense stress.

Tinnitus' varies in intensity and can be intermittent or constant. The degree of loudness and even the type of sound is particular to each person. Some tinnitus sufferers describe the noise as being as piercing and sharp as the signal used in the emergency broadcast system and can be caused by a number of factors, including hearing loss:
Ear infections (chronic)
Undiagnosed hearing loss
Noise Induced Hearing Loss
Ototoxicity—drugs can cause hearing issues and tinnitus
• TMJ
Damage to eardrum
Inner ear damage (often caused by in-ear headphones.)
Earwax
Meniere’s Disease (the presence of fluid in the inner ear.)
Acoustic Neuroma (a tumor on the auditory nerve.)

There is currently no cure for tinnitus, but there is hope to alleviate this symptom. Some newer treatments available to help tinnitus sufferers include one offered through Main Line Audiology. This Neuromonics Tinnitus Therapy, is "…a combination of testing, counseling and specialized masking to help patients effectively manage and gradually reduce the response to tinnitus." Other therapies include sound therapy, acoustic stimulation, and hearing aids.

New research indicates that tinnitus is caused by misfiring in the brain; the most common cause of which is hearing loss, so that hearing aids might have a bigger part to play in relieving tinnitus than previously thought.

The notion of using hearing aids to combat tinnitus often raises eyebrows. It would seem counterproductive to increase someone’s hearing in order to defeat phantom noise, but research seems to support this idea. Not only do patients tend to notice tinnitus less when they are wearing hearing aids, but many newer hearing aids have settings specifically designed to help alleviate tinnitus. In addition, auditory stimulation received through various treatments and through the use of a hearing aids might help to correct causes of tinnitus. This relatively new notion is supported by research and analyzed in an article on Medical Hear-it which states, “tinnitus is not only the effect of obstruction or damage in the ear, but the result of the brain unsuccessfully trying to repair itself.”

The theory that is beginning to emerge is that replacing the false sound with real sound retrains the brain and brings relief. It is thought stimulating auditory regions stops misfires that result in phantom noise and in cases where hearing aids do not do this, they override phantom noises with real life noises. Prior studies have shown hearing aids can reinvigorating parts of the brain and now they are helping provide relief to people who are suffering from tinnitus.

It is important to note, as the list above shows, tinnitus can be a sign of more than one problem. It can also result from ototoxicity, poor nutrition, and can be a symptom of Meniere’s disease or Acoustic Neuroma, so it’s important to visit an audiologist to uncover the cause of tinnitus and to move forward with the best treatment.

If you'd like to learn more, see your hearing health provider. If you need help finding a hearing health provider click HERE to be connected with the largest network of trusted hearing health professionals in the nation!

References

Study done at, Georgetown University Medical Center (GUMC), pointed out that, “tinnitus is not only the effect of obstruction or damage in the ear, but the result of the brain unsuccessfully trying to repair itself.” (Medical Hear-it Sept. 26 2011)

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