Tinnitus: causes, treatments, and why hearing aids are almost always the answer

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What is tinnitus, and how can it be treated?

Tinnitus is a very common medical condition, experienced by roughly 25 million Americans. It's a buzzing, hissing, clicking, or roaring sound that can be intermittent or constant. Moderate tinnitus may not be very noticeable, while some people have been known to seek emergency psychiatric help because the roaring is so loud that sleeping and basic conversations become impossible.

What Causes Tinnitus?

There is no one clear cause. It may be an identifiable source, or it can be a combination of factors. The most common causes of tinnitus are:

  • Hearing Loss – when the brain is no longer exposed to a sound frequency (hearing loss), it can compensate by adding additional sounds that are not physically there.
  • Medical Conditions – Things such as head trauma, immune disorders, and Temporomandibular Joint Disorder have been associated with Tinnitus as a symptom.
  • Medication – There are a lot of drugs that have ototoxic effects. Certain cancer medicines, antibiotics, and diuretics have been known to cause tinnitus.

Types of Tinnitus Treatment

A careful review of your health history along with audiometric testing will lead to the most likely causes and best treatment for your tinnitus, including:

  • Hearing aids are almost always the best solution to tinnitus. The vast majority of people with this condition have some degree of hearing loss, which may be part of its onset. Even if you don't have a hearing loss at all, amplification is still widely considered the best form of treatment.
  • Drug therapy: Certain medicines may provide some relief from tinnitus. This is rare, and since audiologists are not medical doctors, they cannot prescribe such medications. Nutritional supplements may also provide additional relief; however, this is merely anecdotal.
  • Sound Therapy - Many hearing instruments now incorporate some form of sound therapy for tinnitus sufferers.  Different types of noises or chime-like sounds can be used with or without amplification as a tinnitus treatment.