Cope Norcross, M.D., and Cheryl Drost, Au.D.
If you have ringing or buzzing in your ears, you are not alone. Ringing in the ears, or what doctors call tinnitus, is a common problem for more than 50 million people in the U.S. alone, or about 10-15 percent of all adults[i]. It can be troublesome enough to cause sleep disturbance, distract from work and interfere with enjoyment of life. Although ringing or buzzing are the most common sounds heard, tinnitus is any sound you hear that is not present in your external environment. Some people will hear humming, clicking, whistling, whooshing or any number of other sounds. Although it is very common, it is just a symptom of an underlying problem. Most of the time, it is due to hearing loss or loud noise exposures but less common causes include medications, tumors or blood vessel abnormalities.
Are There Treatments?
Historically, there have been many treatments available for tinnitus, but they have not worked very well. However, guidelines[ii] have recently been released that give recommendations about the best treatments for tinnitus based on the most recent scientific research. Although there is no absolute cure, we hope to explain the three forms of treatment recommended by these guidelines.
- The best treatment is hearing instruments (formerly called hearing aids). Use of a hearing instrument has been shown not only to improve tinnitus but also the underlying hearing loss and associated communication problems. In fact, 17 of 18 research studies showed benefit with hearing instrument use for tinnitus. Hearing instruments can also be integrated with sound therapy via wireless streaming.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches skills to reduce the distress caused by bothersome tinnitus. This is usually managed by a mental health professional over several weeks, or in some instances can be done online. It has been shown to be effective at improving the quality of life of tinnitus sufferers.
- Sound therapy is the use of an external sound to alter the perception of tinnitus and the person’s reactions to his/her tinnitus. This can lead to the inhibition of the tinnitus, distraction from the tinnitus or habituation to the tinnitus to make it less bothersome and stressful.
When Should I See A Physician?
If the tinnitus is present for longer than six months, is occurring in only one ear or is associated with hearing difficulty, then an evaluation by a physician specializing in ear and hearing disorders (an otolaryngologist) and an audiologist (expert in hearing loss) should be undertaken. Together, they can help you understand what the cause might be and evaluate for rarer but more dangerous causes. As a team, they can make a big difference for the tinnitus sufferer.
Call 307-577-4240 to schedule a hearing consultation.
[i] American Tinnitus Association, https://www.ata.org/
[ii] Tunkel DE, et al. Clinical Practice Guideline: Tinnitus. Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, 2014, Vol 151 (2S), S10-S40.