Tinnitus is any noise or sound in your ears or your head. For some people it can be quite distressing or distracting. Sometimes tinnitus may indicate that there has been temporary or permanent damage to your auditory system, such as when your ears ring after attending a loud concert. For many people, this prompts them to obtain and use good ear protection (See Musician’s Services).
But, there are many other causes for tinnitus, including wax impaction in the ears, high blood pressure, change in body chemistry, stress, allergies, certain medications or drug interactions, fatigue, diet, etc. And, there are many generator sites for tinnitus, including numerous locations within the auditory system and as well as within the brain.
If you are experiencing tinnitus, the first thing to do is see your primary care provider and make sure you do not have any medical issues which need to be addressed. This is a good time to have any wax removed from your ears, as well.
Then, you should have a baseline audiogram, if you have never had one done, or an annual audiogram to see if there has been any change in your hearing. If hearing has changed, then special objective hearing tests can help determine where in the auditory system the change has occurred, e.g., the sensory hair cells or the hearing nerve. When indicated, e.g. if medical treatment would be possible such as surgery or medicine, appropriate referrals are made.
Next, an Assessment of Tinnitus should be done, including pitch, loudness matching and masking (see Model Audiology Superbill codes and fees). You will also be asked to complete a self-assessment questionnaire about your tinnitus.
For people who have measurable hearing loss on their audiogram, research has shown that about 60% will find that conventional hearing aids will mask their tinnitus at the same time as giving them better access to speech and other environmental sounds. Many of today’s hearing aids also offer optional tinnitus masking programs. These are usually either white or broad band noise or fractal tones or chimes, which can be programmed around the frequencies and loudness of one’s tinnitus, while also compensating for areas of hearing loss. For those with normal hearing, the tinnitus masking programs on advanced hearing instruments can be used and adjusted without giving amplification per se.
Often, tinnitus masking can be achieved by low-tech solutions such as fans, music, CDs of environmental sounds like ocean surf, rainstorms and other nature sounds, etc.
We do not presently offer any “experimental” treatment programs for tinnitus such as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. When hearing instruments and other tinnitus treatment options discussed above do not provide satisfactory management, additional referrals are made to area centers which specialize in advanced or experimental tinnitus management.
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