Tinnitus: Diagnosis and Management

By: Francheska Vega-Cancel, BS, and Audiology Extern

This sound in my ears!
The perception of sound in your ears, without any external sound source, is known as tinnitus. Audiologists and Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT’s) doctors are qualified health professionals for the diagnosis and management of tinnitus.
Tinnitus Diagnosis
There are no standard tests for the diagnosis of tinnitus. Therefore, it is primarily based on the patient’s medical history. When in the process of interviewing with your audiologist or ENT it is important to know the characteristics of the sounds you perceive in your ears. To explore this characteristics they might ask about the onset (when did it begin?), duration (since when do you have tinnitus?), pitch (low or high), and laterality (right, left or both ears) of your tinnitus. Specialists might also want to know if the sounds are continuous or intermittent. This information is important for the identification of its possible cause. There are many disorders or diseases associated with the development of tinnitus; indeed in some cases its cause is unknown. Hearing loss and ear problems (including problems in the ear canal, middle ear, and inner ear) are major factors for the development of sounds in your ears. Noise exposure is another potent risk factor, both for hearing loss and tinnitus. Therefore, after the case history it is important to perform an audiological evaluation (hearing test). In some cases, high-frequency hearing loss is associated with high-frequency tinnitus. ENT’s can also diagnose other ear-related disorders having tinnitus as one of their symptoms.
Tinnitus Management
There is no universal management strategy for tinnitus due to the many possible causes for its development. If a treatable cause for you tinnitus is excluded then the next step is to give an explanation of the causes and associated distress. When tinnitus is caused by permanent hearing loss (sensorineural hearing loss) there are no ways to stop or cure the perception of tinnitus, but there are tools to reduce its intensity, omnipresence, and emotional burden. The placement and continued use of hearing aids is a therapy option for chronic tinnitus in individuals with hearing loss. They increase the volume of external sounds covering the tinnitus and making it less perceivable. They also stimulate your brain and improve communication.
Sound therapy is also used to manage tinnitus. Different sounds can be used to cover the tinnitus, distract you from tinnitus, or by helping you classify the tinnitus as an unimportant sound. Even an electric fan can work as a tinnitus covering device.
Tinnitus can interfere with daily activities and affect your quality of life. In some cases drugs are widely used to reduce the stress and anxiety related to tinnitus. In general, engaging in wellness activities can help improve the perceived intensity of your tinnitus. A healthy diet, physical and social activity, as well as stress reduction strategies like meditation can also provide some alleviation.
The diagnosis and management of tinnitus is a step by step process. If you are experiencing a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or any other sound in your ears our audiologists and ENT’s at Southwestern Ear, Nose, and Throat Associates will provide the appropriate counseling and management options for you.

Reference: American Tinnitus Association. (n.d.). Treatment Options. Retrieved 2015, from https://www.ata.org/managing-your-tinnitus/treatment-options