A sound in your ears or head is a widespread complaint, with approximately 17 to 20% of Australians suffering from some degree of tinnitus, varying from mild to severe.*
As real as the noise may seem to sufferers, tinnitus is a phantom that is hard to pin down. Read on to find out about the triggers and causes of tinnitus and how best to cope with it.
Even if no-one other than the person affected can hear the noise, tinnitus is neither a hallucination nor an imaginary disorder. How the noise develops however, is still not entirely clear – and although there are various theories, none have been proven.
What is known, is that only in rare cases do these annoying noises in the ear occur for no reason at all. The most common causes of tinnitus are injuries, illnesses and anatomical changes.
Tinnitus may develop in the inner ear due to an acoustic trauma, acute hearing loss or age-related hearing loss. Scientists suspect, that after damage to the sensory cells in the cochlea, certain sounds are only faintly transmitted to the brain, or not transmitted at all. The auditory response area in the brain then tries to compensate for the missing frequencies by "turning up the volume“ – even if the person is not hearing that sound at all. Therefore, it has been calculated that the sound of the tinnitus ironically often corresponds to those frequencies that the person affected has difficulty hearing, or can no longer hear at all.
In the middle ear, the trigger may be a defective eardrum; inflammation is another cause. Subjective tinnitus cannot be measured externally. This makes it very hard for a professional to determine the specific trigger. The cause may originate in different areas of the ear, as well as in the nerves or the brain. Tinnitus may also occur when the auditory canal is blocked.
In rare cases (objective tinnitus), the noises in the ear can be measured by a Hearing Care Professional using special equipment. Changes in the blood vessels in the inner ear or damage to the middle ear are usually responsible for the noise in the ear. Objective tinnitus is usually a side effect of another disorder, for example Ménière’s disease (disorder of the inner ear, with dizziness, nausea and hearing loss). This kind of tinnitus can sometimes be treated with medication or with surgical intervention.
Persists for less than three months and often stops spontaneously. Treatment with medication may sometimes help in this case.
Usually recurs within three to twelve months. Treatment with medication and/or relaxation exercises may improve the condition.
The symptoms persist for over twelve months and only rarely subside or disappear.
While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, clinical research is constantly being conducted to try and find one. If you suddenly hear ringing, whistling, whooshing, or buzzing in your ear, the first step is to stay calm. While tinnitus is unpleasant, it’s not a symptom of a serious illness. If the noise in your ear lasts longer than 24 hours, you should seek the advice of an expert.
Studies have indicated that tinnitus disappears completely or at least diminishes over time in the majority of cases. This occurs as the brain loses interest in the sound and stops surveying the signal – a process known as ‘habituation’. The amount of time this process takes varies from person to person, though in most cases, it does happen eventually.
For those with chronic tinnitus (symptoms persist for longer than twelve months), the situation is somewhat different and a full recovery is not often possible, but there are strategies available to reduce the intensity of tinnitus such as hearing device, tinnitus sound therapies and relaxation techniques. Psychologists and Counsellors may also specialise in tinnitus and can assist by changing a sufferers relationship with their tinnitus. The most important thing is to obtain a precise diagnosis of the causes of these sound in your ear.
The first conversation (often referred to as taking medical history) between you and your Hearing Care Professional is a decisive factor in the diagnosis and treatment of noise in the ear.
During this conversation, questions are asked about pre-existing conditions, possible triggers and about the intrusive noise itself. Your professional will also try to assess the level of psychological strain caused by the tinnitus.
You should be prepared to answer the following questions:
Your professional will then carry out various hearing and speech assessments. By doing so, your professional can then establish whether you also have hearing loss or a disorder of the auditory system.
Wireless earbuds can also provide hands-free access to tinnitus masking apps.
Tinnitus masking apps are available for both Android and Apple phones. These apps allow you to customise sounds, such as ocean or forest noises. These sounds help by concealing your tinnitus and providing relief by making it less audible. To stream the sound from your phone or tablet, we recommend the Sennheiser MOMENTUM True Wireless 2 earbuds. These lightweight earbuds allow clear streamlining and have additional features, such as transparent hearing, which enable you to still hear sounds from the environment around you so you stay connected.