Tinnitus

26.1 Tinnitus text

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is sound in the head or ears.  The most common type of tinnitus is called Subjective Tinnitus. It can be heard as any sound, but is often a hissing or ringing sound.  

Subjective tinnitus is sound made by the hearing system and only you can hear it.

Objective Tinnitus, or Somatosounds, are real sounds near the ears that are heard. These sounds can pulse like your heartbeat, and can sometimes be heard by another person.

 

What causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often caused by hearing damage, but awareness of it often begins follows stress. Changes in the ear and hearing pathways are misinterpreted by the brain as sound. Tinnitus tends to be most problematic when the brain has focused significant attention on the signal and a strong negative emotional association has been formed.

It is rare that tinnitus is a symptom of a medical condition that requires treatment.

 

Tinnitus is Common

Some sounds in the ears can be heard by most people when they are in very quiet room for a long period of time. Tinnitus that can be heard most of the time affects almost 1 in 10 New Zealanders.

 

Tinnitus Assessment and Treatment

Awareness of tinnitus sounds from time to time is quite normal. However, if tinnitus is causing significant distress then you should see an MNZAS Audiologist for assessment of your tinnitus and hearing. Your MNZAS Audiologist will arrange referral for medical investigation if appropriate.

Currently there is no medical cure for tinnitus. Managing  hearing loss accompanying tinnitus is usually the best solution.  Sometimes that hearing loss can be quite mild and not cause large problems hearing, but managing that mild hearing loss will reduce the tinnitus in most cases.  Your Audiologist will also provide counselling and possibly use of “sound therapy”.

Sound therapy plays soft sound (like a hissing rain sound or the sound of ocean waves) to your ears. This soft sound makes is more difficult to hear the tinnitus and this can train the brain to ignore it.  

Many MNZAS Audiologists specialise in the tinnitus assessment and treatment.

 

Who should I see about Tinnitus?

Audiologists are trained to manage all hearing problems, in addition many MNZAS Audiologists specialise in the assessment and treatment of reduced sound tolerance and tinnitus.

Reduced Sound Tolerance

What is Reduced Sound Tolerance?

This is abnormal discomfort to sound. There are several different types.

  • Recruitment is discomfort to loud sounds and accompanies hearing loss

  • Hyperacusis is discomfort or pain experienced when exposed to normal to loud sounds, and can occur with normal hearing

  • Misophonia is a dislike of sounds (e.g. chewing eating sounds)

  • Phonophobia is fear of sound

 

What Causes Reduced Sound Tolerance?

Similar to tinnitus, reduced sound tolerance is caused by a change in the hearing system and how the brain is processing sound.

 

Treatment for Reduced Sound Tolerance

Treatment for these conditions is similar to tinnitus.  A combination of counselling and low-level sound is used to desensitise the hearing system so that sounds are heard with more normal loudness.