Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a sound that can only be heard by the person affected. It is often described as whistling, buzzing, clicking, crackling or pulsing. Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom that is either continuous or intermittent, and that can occur in one ear or in both.

The degree of annoyance associated with tinnitus varies from one person to another. For some, sounds are only heard in very quiet surroundings. For others, tinnitus is highly disruptive. In these individuals, tinnitus may be accompanied by anxiety, insomnia or depression.

Causes and triggers

A common cause of tinnitus is damage to the cells within the ear. When damaged (by loud noise or normal aging), the cells relay an abnormal signal to the brain. The change in the auditory signal may in fact be responsible for the noise heard by those with tinnitus.

Several other factors can cause, modify or worsen tinnitus:

  • Listening to loud music or using loud equipment (e.g., machinery, chainsaw)
  • Head or neck injury
  • Problem with a joint in the jaw or neck
  • Certain ear disorders (e.g., Ménière's disease)
  • Certain diseases (e.g., diabetes, arthritis, depression, infection)
  • Blocked ear canal (wax impaction or foreign body)
  • Sometimes, certain medications can trigger tinnitus. Do not stop taking your medication without consulting a medical professional.

    Treatment

    Tinnitus can sometimes be eliminated by treating the medical condition responsible. Be sure to tell your doctor if you have this symptom. It is also important to check with your medical professional to see if your tinnitus may be caused by one or more of your medications. If so, your doctor may replace them with others that do not cause tinnitus.

    There is no cure for most cases of chronic tinnitus. Several measures however, can be taken to help minimize its impact:

    • Use a hearing aid if you also have hearing loss
    • Use behavioural therapy to manage the psychological response to tinnitus
    • Learn relaxation and stress management techniques
    • Create background noise with a masking device (e.g., low-volume music, fan, white noise machine) to drown out the tinnitus if bothersome in quiet surroundings

    It is also recommended that you see an audiologist. This hearing specialist can perform tests and help determine which strategies will help you best cope with your tinnitus.

    As a preventive measure, wear earplugs or earmuffs when exposed to loud noises.

    When should I see a medical professional?

    If you have tinnitus, see a medical professional to determine what may be causing your tinnitus, and for appropriate treatment.

    For more information:

    Speech-Language & Audiology Canada

    www.sac-oac.ca

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