If you suffer from ringing, whirring, chirping or buzzing in your ears you want relief. You may be tempted to see your primary physician because the word “primary” implies it’s your first stop. You might wonder if an ENT can help you, since “ears” seem to be the problem; and they are ear doctors. However, the first call should be to an audiologist. Audiologists specialize in hearing and balance disorders. While tinnitus doesn’t affect your balance, it is most commonly a symptom of hearing loss. Audiologists help people hear the sounds around them and not hear the sounds that aren’t there. They are the first choice for treatment of tinnitus.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is commonly called “ringing in the ears.” But ringing isn’t the only sound that people with tinnitus hear. Some people describe the noise as screeching, whistling, roaring, buzzing and whirring. Tinnitus isn’t defined by the sound you hear; it’s defined by hearing sounds that aren’t present. Tinnitus happens when you hear sounds that aren’t there. It’s not uncommon, so you aren’t alone. About 15 percent of people experience tinnitus some time during their life. Most commonly, it is a symptom of hearing loss. Would you believe that more than 80% of people with tinnitus have hearing loss? It’s true, and the hearing loss is often undetected until they seek treatment for tinnitus.  

Causes of tinnitus

Tinnitus is a symptom. Tinnitus may be “heard” in the ear but it can be caused by damage or problems with the jaw. Damage to the auditory nerves that send signals from the ear to the brain can also cause tinnitus. This is known as ephaptic transmission. Temporary tinnitus can be caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure. Atherosclerosis, head and neck tumors and problems with the carotid artery can also cause tinnitus.

However, the most common cause is undiagnosed hearing loss. Hearing loss reduces the auditory stimulation of the brain. Scientists and researchers believe that when the brain doesn’t receive sufficient stimulation, it makes up input to fill the deficit. In other words, when your brain no longer hears sound, it makes sound up.

How to treat tinnitus

Audiologists and audiology researchers are leading the charge to discover treatments for tinnitus. One of the most effective treatments discovered is to fit the person with hearing aids. The hearing aids return auditory input to normal levels. For example, as background noise is restored to audible levels, this tinnitus fades into the background. Because the brain is busy processing the signals that do exist; it is too busy to work on signals that don’t exist.

If hearing loss isn’t present, the audiologist may recommend the use of white noise devices to mask tinnitus. White noise devices are as large as table top models and as small as hearing aids. Cognitive and behavioral therapies are effective for some cases of tinnitus.

If you have tinnitus, don’t suffer in silence. Call the audiologist and schedule an appointment today.