Tinnitus 101: Your questions answered

May 07, 2021
Healthy hearing
5 min read

WRITTEN BY

Sarah Wakefield, AuD

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Tinnitus is an audiological and neurological condition that affects nearly 50 million Americans, often described as a ringing, buzzing, humming, chirping or static noise in the ears. Many people who suffer from tinnitus are not aware of the sound unless they are in complete quiet, while some have a difficult time turning it off and are aware of it most of the time they are awake.

What causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus itself is a side effect, not a disease. There are many potential causes of tinnitus including hearing loss, noise exposure, ear disease, head or neck injuries and circulatory changes, as well as, medication side effects, neural (related to the nervous system) disease and/or aging. A medical evaluation is necessary to determine a potential cause(s) and how best to manage it. In most cases, the main cause is hearing loss and the changes that take place in the brain due to the hearing loss. 

How is tinnitus measured?
One way healthcare professionals measure tinnitus is with questionnaires that provide a professional snapshot of how a patient is impacted at that moment. These evaluate the disruptiveness of the tinnitus on their ability to concentrate, socialize, work, relax, sleep and communicate. It will also assess the awareness and annoyance of the tinnitus. In addition to the questionnaire, an audiologist will often complete an assessment that is used to measure the pitch, loudness and reaction of the tinnitus to sound. Using this information, the audiologist can create a patient-centered treatment plan best suited for that individual. This will often include the use of sound therapy, hearing aids and tinnitus counseling. The assessment will be used as a baseline measurement to track an individual’s progress with treatment.

How tinnitus treated?
While there is no scientifically proven treatment to cure tinnitus, there are management strategies proven to reduce the impact of tinnitus. Because tinnitus presentation is unique to the patient, there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment, and a patient-centered approach should be taken when determining the best course of action. Common treatment options include hearing aids, sound therapies, behavioral therapies or medical management.

General health and tinnitus
Diet, exercise and good sleep are necessary to support the efforts in the treatment methods mentioned above. Yoga or Tai Chi is an excellent way to calm the mind and body to escape the effects of tinnitus and reduce stress. While eating a healthy diet will not directly affect tinnitus, it does support a healthy lifestyle that can improve other aspects of one’s life. Good sleep habits are central to breaking the cycle of tinnitus, since it often disrupts sleep. Following a consistent bedtime, limiting television prior to bed and enriching your environment with relaxing sounds is suggested. Because tinnitus is most apparent when quiet, relaxing sounds can assist individuals in falling and staying asleep. Items such as a fan, radio set to the static between stations, or sound generator app on a phone may be helpful. 

Learn more about tinnitus
Regardless of the cause of tinnitus, treatment often requires a multidisciplinary approach. A medical evaluation is recommended to rule out a medical cause of the tinnitus and to start on the most beneficial treatment plan.

To schedule an appointment with Mount Nittany Physician Group Ear, Nose & Throat/Audiology, call 814.466.6396. Patients can also request an appointment online at mymountnittanyhealth.com. For more information on hearing health, visit mountnittany.org/audiology.

Sarah Wakefield, AuD, is a provider with Mount Nittany Physician Group Ear, Nose & Throat/Audiology. Her specialty areas include tinnitus and auditory processing disorders.

About The Author

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“Hearing loss impacts each person differently,” shares Dr. Wakefield. “It’s important to listen to each patient and fully understand their situation in order to best treat and manage their hearing healthcare needs.”

Dr. Wakefield earned her bachelor’s degree in communication disorders from The Pennsylvania State University and her doctorate in audiology from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She is a member of the American Academy of Audiology and the American Auditory Society.
“To know that I’ve been able to make a positive difference in a patient’s quality of life is what this work is all about,” Dr. Wakefield says. “It’s what makes it all worth it.”

Outside of the office, Dr. Wakefield enjoys gardening and practicing yoga. She especially appreciates time spent with family, including her husband and their daughter

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