Tinnitus, an Overview

August 22, 2018

Most of us have seen movies where the main character is exposed to an explosion at short range and when they come back to themselves everything is quiet except for a high-pitched ringing sound.  After a few seconds that ringing dissipates, the background noise returns, and the character moves on with the film.  For more than 45 million people living in the US – myself included – this ringing doesn’t go away.  

Tinnitus (TIN-it-us or tin-EYE-tus) is the perception of sound when no external noise is present.  This sound could be described as ringing, clicking, humming, buzzing, whirring, rushing, roaring, or even musical in quality.  It can be constant, loud, and bothersome or it can be sporadic and barely noticeable.

No one is completely sure what causes tinnitus, but there are many theories and research projects trying to figure it out.  At the moment, some of the hottest theories are “everyone has tinnitus, but we don’t notice it without hearing loss,” over- or underactive sections of the brain causing phantom electrical impulses, and genetics.  Most research these days is focused on what can be done to reverse or lessen the effects of tinnitus.

There is no cure for tinnitus as of yet, but there are ways to lessen your perception of it.  There are a few technology products that offer sound masking with either specially programmed fractal tones, binaural tones, or even just white noise.  If you have a hearing loss as well as tinnitus, hearing devices may be very beneficial as they have been found to help lessen the perception of tinnitus approximately 80% of the time. An unexpected perk!

The most effective options are often free: reducing stress (mental, emotional, and physical), creating small amounts of background noise in your environment to help cover the sound of tinnitus, and behavioral modification techniques, also known as cognitive behavioral training.  Mental and emotional stress greatly exacerbates tinnitus, so try to avoid topics of conversation or situations that you know will stress you out.  Having a fan or radio playing at low volume helps quite a few people by creating just enough noise to distract the brain.  A good way to imagine tinnitus is to think of it as a radio playing in the background.  It’s always on and you’re unable to change the station or the volume, but the trick is to realize that while it can be annoying, it’s not going to hurt you.  Your brain will learn to tune it out.  Sometimes you won’t be able to avoid listening, but your brain will get distracted again and the noise will fade into the background.

We do offer tinnitus evaluations and consultations here at our clinic.  If you have any questions or would like to set up an appointment with one of our doctors, please give us a call at (541) 228-9233 or email us at info@eugeneaudiology.com.


Fun Random Fact:  Did you know that you have more than five senses?  We are not limited to just sight, taste, touch, scent, and sound, but we also perceive temperature, balance, pain, time, and direction.  In all, humans are thought to be equipped with around 11-21 senses, depending on which neuroscientist you ask.


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Audiology Professionals

Audiology Professionals