Tinnitus is a persistent ringing in the ears that affects an estimated one out of every five people. It’s a nuisance, but rarely the sign of a serious condition. Its cause can vary, and may be the result of aging, noise exposure, infections, allergies, earwax impaction or medications. In some patients, tinnitus is such a distraction it can interfere with quality of life. Depending on the cause, there may be a solution to help reduce the symptoms.
The first step to treating tinnitus is to have a comprehensive evaluation of your hearing and your tinnitus. The UCHealth Hearing and Balance Center uses an interdisciplinary approach to treat and manage tinnitus. An audiologist can help you to understand the underlying causes of tinnitus, as well as factors which exacerbate it. Your audiologist will help you build a treatment plan, which may include evaluations and treatment from professionals in multiple disciplines across the UCHealth system. The UCHealth Hearing and Balance Center works closely with your primary care physician to ensure that you are receiving the proper care for your tinnitus. The audiologist may also incorporate sound therapies, a modified version of Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, hearing aids, tinnitus maskers and other audiology-specific treatment modalities.
In many cases, medical treatments cannot “cure” tinnitus entirely. Generally, there are no drugs available to cure tinnitus, though some medications can help to manage the symptoms of tinnitus. Treatment involves identifying the underlying causes and treating those conditions when possible. Removing excess earwax, treating a vascular condition with medication or surgery and changing your medication can all reduce or eliminate the problem. In some cases, tinnitus may resolve on its own, with no treatments.
Other times, sound therapy techniques work best. White noise can be used to suppress the sound enough that it is less of a nuisance. Electronic devices are commonly used to accomplish this; they include white noise machines that produce nature sounds such as rain or ocean waves, hearing aids, masking devices that are worn in the ear like hearing aids and produce low-level white noise and tinnitus retraining devices that utilize programmed musical patterns at specific frequencies to redirect your attention away from tinnitus. Counseling is often recommended in conjunction with this type of device. Other low-cost solutions include running a fan, air-conditioner or humidifier at night to help you sleep.
For patients with decreased sound tolerance, including disorders such as hyperacusis and misophonia, the UCHealth Hearing and Balance Center can provide auditory desensitization treatments. The audiologists of the Hearing and Balance Center use an interdisciplinary approach to decreased sound tolerance, with support from many different providers in the UCHealth system.
Prevention of hearing loss and tinnitus is always your best bet. Use of hearing protection in noisy or loud environments is strongly recommended. When using headphones, remember the 80-90 rule: you can listen at 80 percent of the maximum volume of your music player for 90 minutes per day. Increasing the volume leads to less safe listening time, and decreasing the volume results in longer safe listening time. And, please avoid using cotton swabs in your ears as these can cause impacted earwax.
Call UCHealth Hearing & Balance at (720) 848-2800 for more information or to schedule an appointment for a tinnitus consultation with one of our audiologists.