Many of our patients complain of a ringing, whistling, or hissing in their ears — a symptom of hearing loss known as tinnitus. People who experience this sort of “head noise” and aren’t sure what it is might think it’s a serious condition. In some cases, tinnitus can be debilitating, but it’s rarely a sign of a serious disease. Here are some of our practice’s most common tinnitus questions and their answers.

Q: What causes tinnitus?
A: Tinnitus is most commonly caused by exposure to excessively loud noise and is often associated with hearing loss. Long-term exposure on the job or during recreational activities can lead to tinnitus, as can a single intense event that causes permanent damage. But tinnitus can also be the result of a physical trauma, and a small percentage of cases may come from medical conditions such as hypertension or diabetes. Stress can cause or exacerbate tinnitus in some patients. Some prescription and over-the-counter drugs can also be a cause.

Q: How common is tinnitus?
A: Tinnitus is fairly common, as an estimated 50 million Americans are afflicted by it to some degree. About 30 million people have a severe case and must seek medical attention to find relief. About 1% to 2% of the population considers their tinnitus to be debilitating, meaning it prevents them from living life on their terms.

Q: Is there a cure for tinnitus?
A: Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, although scientific research on the subject is ongoing. Identifying the cause of your specific symptoms can help reduce the impact that tinnitus has on your daily life and well-being. Changes to your diet or medication regimen may offer some relief, and meditation can help relieve stress, which may lessen the impact tinnitus has on your life.

Q: What are my treatment options?
A: Since tinnitus and hearing loss are often discovered concurrently, the number-one treatment for tinnitus is the use of hearing instruments. However, for those who do not have hearing loss, the use of masking devices can also provide relief. These devices can be programmed to match the sound of your tinnitus to help reduce its presence. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a treatment program with a high success rate that combines counseling and sound therapy to retrain the way the brain responds to tinnitus. There are a number of treatment options that you can pursue, and we can help you decide which might be the most effective for you.

Q: What makes my tinnitus worse?
A: Loud noises can lead to more noticeable tinnitus and can further damage hearing, so it is recommended that you wear hearing protection when in loud situations. Alcohol, tobacco, painkillers, and some prescription drugs can exacerbate tinnitus in some individuals as well. Those with higher stress levels tend to experience a greater intensity of tinnitus, so managing stress can provide relief. Please consult your doctor before changing any medications.