What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is defined as perceived sound that does not come from the environment. Tinnitus is perceived as occurring rarely, intermittently, or constantly. It can sound like the following: ringing, buzzing, humming, static, crickets, hissing, tone, beeping, etc. Tinnitus affects individuals to different degrees of disturbance. Some perceive tinnitus as mild but not bothersome, others find it noticeable, and others feel like it is disturbing enough to affect daily activities.

Origins of Tinnitus:

Tinnitus can derive from a variety of sources, such as damage to the inner ear, damage to the brain, a head or neck injury, side effects of medications, ear conditions, blood/circulation issues, and/or jaw problems.

Is there a solution for Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often considered bothersome because the brain recognizes it as a sound that was not previously present (during childhood). Consequently, the brain often perceives tinnitus as a “new problem”. Some individuals find that it is annoying, decreases concentration of daily activities, and may even make it difficult to relax or fall asleep.

Some forms of tinnitus are treatable, for example, if the tinnitus is due to jaw issues or a head cold. However, many forms of tinnitus are not medically treatable. However, there are rehabilitative techniques that can be used to cope with tinnitus and change how your brain interprets the sound.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to learn different skills and ways of processing (how you perceive tinnitus). This does not happen on its own. It requires you to modify your environments in daily living.

The goal with Sound Therapy is to use other soothing sounds to retrain the brain to process tinnitus differently.

Sound therapy can help to:

  • Decrease the perception of the tinnitus by adding or increasing the presence of soothing background sounds
  • Allow you to focus on other sounds which draw your attention away from the tinnitus
  • Provide stress relief
  • Reduce an emotional reaction
  • Give you control over the tinnitus instead of the tinnitus controlling you

Types of everyday sounds to use for sound therapy include soothing sounds, such as a rainstorm, background sounds, such as the humming of the dryer, television, etc., and interesting sounds, such as a favorite genre of music, book on tape, etc.

Sound Therapy can include the use of devices such as:

  • Sound generator, i.e., sound machine or tinnitus ear-level devices
  • Environmental Enrichment Device, i.e., fountain, radio, fan, ambient sound CDs
  • Hearing Aids
  • Music Device
  • A combination of the above

A sound generator is useful to keep on an end table or night stand at home in order to use during quiet activities, such as reading a book or falling asleep, or while the tinnitus is very loud and/or bothersome.

Ear-level sound generators are another option to use throughout the day as a background sound in your ear to help create a blending effect (by perceiving the tinnitus as just one of many sounds rather than a single sound that is in the forefront).

An environmental enrichment device, such as a fountain or fan, can create soothing or background types of noises to draw your brain’s attention outward rather than fixating on the internal tinnitus.

Hearing aids are a sound therapy option for those who have a combination of hearing loss and tinnitus. Sounds that a person is missing out on will be increased, which will draw the person’s attention outward to sounds of interest and higher priority, such as voices or music, instead of perceiving tinnitus as the focal point.

Music devices, such as MP3 players, CDs, radio, etc. may be used to provide relief, especially with music that has no lyrics or your favorite genre of music that you associate with positive experiences.

Combination devices include a hearing aid that has an ear-level sound generator (such as wind noise) included in the aid.

Ultimately, desensitization to outward sounds will help you to gain tolerance to the tinnitus and create a blending effect of the tinnitus.

Two things you should avoid include 1-the use of earplugs when you are not in a loud situation and 2-staying in a completely quiet room void of background noises.

Earplugs are a useful method of hearing protection while in a loud environment, such as a rock concert, mowing the lawn, shooting guns, etc. However, earplugs should not be used in everyday listening environments to help with tinnitus. It can actually make matters worse by shutting out external sounds and allowing your brain to continue to focus solely on the tinnitus. Staying in a completely quiet listening environment hinders the ability for the brain to focus attention outward to other sounds more meaningful to you, such as speech and music.

Call (225) 246-4478 to schedule an appointment with one of our audiologists today!