October 2, 2009

Ask the Audiologist

margaretBy Margaret Christiansen, AU.D, CCC-A
Audiology Consultants, P.C.

I have noticed a high pitched ringing sound in my ears. What is it and what can I do about it?

Many people suffer from a ringing or buzzing sound in one or both of their ears. This is called tinnitus. Tinnitus varies in severity and affects people very differently. Some people barley notice the ringing while others describe tinnitus as being extremely disturbing, leading to sleeplessness or even depression.

Tinnitus can be caused by everyday things such as stress, medications, caffeine and sodium. It can be a result of exposure to loud sounds or a “side effect” of hearing loss. In rare instances, tinnitus is caused by serious medical conditions and therefore should always be investigated by a physician.
Unfortunately, in many cases the cause for the tinnitus or source of its origin can not be identified. Sadly, this means there is often no “cure” for this persistent ringing. There are no magic pills to stop the tinnitus so, often, it becomes a matter of learning to cope and live with the tinnitus.

For some people, a good coping mechanism is as simple as never allowing oneself to be around quiet. Ringing seems louder and more bothersome when there is no background noise present. Many people like to have a fan or soft music in the background to help “drown out” the ringing sound. For others the use of a white noise machine or radio static is helpful. If tinnitus is bothersome or is keeping you awake at night, using one of these soft sounds can be extremely beneficial.

For about half of tinnitus suffers the use of hearing aids is helpful in reducing or eliminating the tinnitus while the hearing aid is worn. This is successful because the extra sound the hearing aid produces helps cover up the ringing. Tinnitus maskers are also available. These devices look like hearing aids but produce a static-like sound designed to cover the ringing.

If these methods do not provide relief or tinnitus is causing major disruption to your life, there are tinnitus retraining therapies offered that help retrain the way your brain reacts to tinnitus.
Because there are varying causes of tinnitus, it is important to discuss this symptom with your physician. The American Tinnitus Association, www.ata.org is a wonderful resource on this topic. Here you may find answers to your questions and information on the latest research.