Tinnitus is sound heard when there is no sound present in the environment. You might hear a ringing, roaring, buzzing, whistling, chirping, or hissing sound. It may be continuous or intermittent (occasional), can be pulsing or steady, and can range in severity. Generally tinnitus is subjective, meaning only the individual can hear the sound. A hearing test, imaging studies, and tinnitus matching are some common evaluations for tinnitus. It is estimated that 50 million individuals have tinnitus. Tinnitus is more common in men than women, and it becomes more common with aging.
What causes tinnitus?
Hearing loss is the leading cause of tinnitus. Since hearing loss is gradual, and typically imperceptible, tinnitus can be the most obvious clue that someone had a hearing loss. Less commonly, tinnitus may be caused by medication, some types of tumors, stress, depression, anxiety, or insomnia.
How is tinnitus treated or managed?
There is no cure for tinnitus; however, the emotional response to tinnitus can be well managed using a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy and masking agents. Cognitive behavioral therapy encompasses a cognitive component, where the tinnitus sufferer learns that tinnitus is a real phenomenon likely due to hearing loss or other known cause, and a behavioral component where the patient learns different tools to manage the emotional response to tinnitus. In addition, there are several tinnitus masking agents such as hearing aids, tinnitus maskers, and noise generators, which effectively mask or cover the tinnitus.