Tinnitus: Symptom or Disease and How it’s Both

The tinnitus experience can differ.

by Debbie Clason for Healthy Hearing

June 1, 2017 - There’s a noise in your ears that no one else can hear – a buzzing, ringing or whooshing sound that won’t go away — and it is driving you crazy. Is it a disease you wonder? Or a symptom of something serious? And – will it ever go away?

Most of us have experienced this condition, especially after a night enjoying the music of a favorite band or an afternoon cheering for the home team at the local stadium. If the ringing and buzzing doesn’t go away after a few hours however, it’s time for a trip to your hearing healthcare professional. Their examination can help reveal whether or not you have a condition known as tinnitus and whether it’s a symptom of another medical issue or is so chronic it classifies as a disease all by itself.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus (pronounced ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-i-tus) is the sensation of a ringing or buzzing in the ears even when there is no external sound present. You might hear the noise sporadically or constantly, and it may be loud or barely noticeable. Sometimes it’s worse — especially when there isn’t any background noise, such as when you are trying to fall asleep in a quiet room.

According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), more than 50 million people suffer from some form of tinnitus. While most people consider it a minor annoyance, more than 12 million with severe cases find it disruptive to their personal and professional relationships. Many of these individuals with chronic cases of tinnitus are veterans. In fact, tinnitus is the single largest category for disability claims in the military. Hearing loss is the second.

Tinnitus as a Symptom

Most hearing health professionals believe tinnitus is a symptom of another condition or illness, such as:

In many cases, tinnitus is reduced when the underlying cause of the condition is treated.

Tinnitus as a Disease

In other cases, tinnitus is so chronic and debilitating it can cause other health problems including stress, anxiety, insomnia, depression and even thoughts of suicide. While it isn’t curable, it can be managed, even in these extreme situations.

Dr. James Henry, a research scientist at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research at the VA Medical Center in Portland, Ore. has developed five progressive treatment protocols to help veterans with chronic cases of tinnitus manage their condition. In a 2013 post published by Psychology Today, Dr. Henry describes his five-step Progressive Tinnitus Management Program. While levels one and two deal with getting patients to hearing healthcare providers and treating any detected hearing loss, level three focuses on showing patients how to use sound, relaxation exercises and diversion activities to manage their tinnitus. Dr. Henry said 95 percent of those attending the level three workshops succeed in managing their tinnitus.

Additionally, several hearing aid manufacturers, such as Oticon, have developed hearing solutions with tinnitus relief features to be used in tandem with tinnitus management programs.

Seek Treatment

Whether you suspect your tinnitus is a symptom of a larger issue or something isolated, it needs to be evaluated by a hearing care professional and other medical professionals to determine if there is something causing it and how to best treat it. The first step is to seek treatment from an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician or hearing healthcare professional who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of tinnitus. In the meantime, avoid substances such as alcohol, smoking and drinking caffeinated beverages, which can exacerbate your condition. Get plenty of rest and relaxation. Finally, it’s also important to maintain a positive outlook and find a support group with people who understand what you are dealing with.

[ Top ] [ Back ]