In all cases, tinnitus affects the brain's auditory cortex, which is responsible for hearing. Certain nerve cells and neural circuits are “tuned” to a specific tone, like the keys on a piano. When we experience changes in hearing, our brain tries to compensate for them and sets in motion the tinnitus cycle. Sound therapy for tinnitus uses a process known as habituation to retrain the way the brain interprets tinnitus.
Essentially, the brain learns to reclassify unwanted sound as neutral or unimportant. Are you surrounded by loud sounds? A lot of loud noises where you live or work can cause hearing loss that triggers tinnitus. Those sounds can include the roar of machines, garden equipment, concerts and sporting events. If you have pulsating tinnitus, your doctor may be able to hear it when doing an exam (objective tinnitus).
Tinnitus is linked to a variety of comorbid conditions, including vestibular disorders, audiological problems, and behavioral health problems. There is no FDA-approved drug treatment for tinnitus, and controlled trials have found no drug, supplement, or herb that is more effective than a placebo. Medications can't cure tinnitus, but in some cases they can help reduce the severity of symptoms or complications. Noise-induced hearing loss, which results from damage to the sensory hair cells in the inner ear, is one of the most common causes of tinnitus.
Your general health can affect the severity and impact of tinnitus, so it's also a good time to take stock of your diet, physical activity, sleep, and stress level and take steps to improve them. You may also be referred to an audiologist who can also measure your hearing and evaluate your tinnitus. People who suffer from tinnitus describe hearing a variety of different and sometimes intertwined sounds. If you have age-related hearing loss, a hearing aid can often make tinnitus less noticeable by amplifying external sounds.
Approximately 20 million people have problems with annoying chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. Most of the time, tinnitus isn't a sign of a serious health problem, but if it's severe or doesn't go away, it can cause fatigue, depression, anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration. People who work in noisy environments, such as factory or construction workers, road crews or even musicians, can develop tinnitus over time when continuous exposure to noise damages the tiny sensory hair cells in the inner ear that help transmit sound to the brain. Anything you can do to limit your exposure to loud noises by staying away from the sound, lowering the volume, or wearing earplugs or earmuffs will help prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse.
Your doctor will ask you about your current health status, medical conditions, and medications to find out if an underlying condition is causing tinnitus.