Tinnitus is the term for noises in the head. Tinnitus may be a continuous or a fluctuating sound. It can vary in pitch froma low roar to a high whistle or squeal. Tinnitus may occur in one or both ears. When the ringing is constant, it can be annoying and distracting. Nearly 36 million Americans suffer from this affliction. For more than 7 million persons this condition is so severe that they cannot lead normal lives.

What Causes Tinnitus?
Most tinnitus comes from damage to the microscopic nerve endings of the inner ear. Injury to these nerve endings may lead to hearing loss and tinnitus. Recent research suggests that the auditory cortex area of the brain is involved in the production of tinnitus.

For the first time, scientists have located an area in the brain involved in the production of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a ringing, roaring, buzzing, or clicking sound that occurs inside the head. These findings are in a new study by Alan H. Lockwood, M.D., of the State University of New York in Buffalo and his colleagues, in the January 22, 1998 issue of Neurology.

There are many causes of tinnitus. These include allergy, blood pressure and circulation problems, diabetes, thyroid disease, injury to the head and neck, tumor as well as side effects of medications including aspirin, anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, and antidepressants. Tinnitus can also be a symptom of otosclerosis, a condition characterized by stiffening of the joints of the middle ear bones.

Tinnitus Management

At the Head & Neck Center, P.C. a multidisciplinary approach is used to evaluate and assist tinnitus sufferers. This first step for tinnitus sufferers is to have a thorough audiological and medical evaluation to rule out a medical and treatable condition. When medical and treatable conditions have been ruled out, there is a number of approaches used to help the tinnitus sufferer return to a normal way of life. Below are descriptions of some of the approaches used at The Head & Neck Center, P.C. to help manage tinnitus.

The use of hearing protection when exposed to hazardous sound levels. Acoustic trauma to the auditory system caused by steady state or impact noise can affect tinnitus. The best way to prevent acoustic trauma is to wear hearing protection when exposed to dangerous sound levels. Keep in mind that dangerous sound levels do not occur only in a work environment or while doing something that is not enjoyable. The ears and auditory system is not discriminating. Therefore, they can not differentiate between work or recreation sound levels. That is, the machinery at work poses the same hazard as music, wood working, power tools, shooting, and lawn equipment. The louder the sound the quicker the damage can occur.

Diet can and does affect tinnitus. Further, some individuals are more sensitive to certain foods, agents, and chemicals than others. The use of foods, drinks, or supplements may cause or increase tinnitus. If there has been a change in the intensity, duration, or quality of the tinnitus a recent change in diet or increased intake of a specific food or drink may be the culprit. Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola and tobacco. Decrease your salt intake.

Life style changes can help reduce tinnitus. Being well rested and reducing stress and anxiety can reduce the intensity of the tinnitus as well as increase the quality of life for the individual. Techniques to help the sufferer relax which enables the person to rest better and reduce stress and anxiety and can help the tinnitus sufferer better manage the tinnitus. Daily exercise helps reduce stress and improves circulation.

The use of some prescription medications can help some individuals. This type of therapy requires the prescription and monitoring by a physician. However, most studies on the use of prescription medication is less than promising.

If a hearing loss is present often the use of hearing aids can be helpful. This occurs by making environmental sounds audible to the hearing impaired individual. This introduced sound across the auditory system can partially or completely cover the tinnitus while the individual is wearing the device. In addition, the use of a hearing aid will allow the user to hear better which in turn can reduce stress and anxiety and reduce the annoyance of tinnitus.

The use of masking devices whether personal or table top devices can provide relief. These devices emit a swishing or rushing sound that can cover the tinnitus. The individual can cope better knowing the sound that is heard is coming from the masker and not from within the person.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a therapy which is having great success in helping people cope with tinnitus. It is based on well established neurophysiological and psychological principles. There are many levels of processing auditory information with each contributing to the final product that occurs in the brain. There is a close connection between the auditory portion of the brain and the emotion portion and automatic response of the body to danger. This assigns a negative response to the sound which causes the distress. Tinnitus retraining therapy is specifically designed to break this negative association and allows the person to resume a normal lifestyle. The tinnitus or sound is still present, however the unpleasant experience is no longer associated with it. Therefore, the discomfort is no longer present.

At the Head & Neck Center, P.C. all or some of the above may be used to help you manage your tinnitus and to resume a normal way of life. Further, the plan of treatment is tailor made for you and will vary according to your specific problem.