TINNITUS - What are those noises you hear?

by Laine Waggoner, MA, MS

A subjective perception of sound in the ears or head, where no external source is present.

Full range of sounds: ringing in the ears, chirping, crickets, whooshing, pulsing, ocean waves, buzzing or music.  Sound can be low, mid-range or shatteringly loud.

May be from spontaneous activity in the brain or a problem in the inner hair cells of the cochlea. It may have a genetic component, but more studies need to be done.

Unknown. Following are possibilities.

  • Up to 90% of sufferers, have some level of noise induced HL, when hair cells (cilia) are damaged or destroyed.
  • Ear wax buildup.
  • Ototoxic medications: cause temporary or permanent tinnitus.
  • Ear or sinus infections.
  • Misalignment of jaw joints or muscles (TMJ).
  • Cardiovascular disease (3% have pulsatile tinnitus).
  • Tumor on the auditory, vestibular or facial nerves.
  • Head and neck trauma.

Varies. It can be temporary, intermittent or constant.


Ranges from none to so extreme that it drowns out speech sounds.

One third of the population or 50 million people of all ages. Tinnitus is the most commonly referred otological problem in the US. The ATA says that 12 million people seek medical attention because of its severity and two million are seriously debilitated by it daily.

None found except for the obvious: avoid loud noises and maintain good health.


Generally work best if several are combined:

  • Amplification- Hearing aids usually give total or partial relief

  • Masking- Low-level sound is reduced by hearing aid-like devices can reduce or eliminate perception of sound.

  • Cochlear Implants/Electrical stimulation- some deaf and near-deaf patients report temporary or permanent tinnitus relief after the CIís
    electrodes destroy the healthy hair cells remaining in their cochlea.

  • Drug therapy- Anti-anxiety, anti-depressants, anti-histamines, anti-convulsants or anesthetics have provided relief to some.

  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)- in-the-ear sound generators provide background low-level sounds. With counseling can help patients eventually grow unaware of their tinnitus. Can take 12-24 months.

  • Biofeedback- relaxation technique helps patients to change their bodyís reaction to stress by learning to control pulse rate, muscle tension and brain wave activity.

  • Cognitive therapy- Talk therapy focuses on patientís negative thinking and behavior to change his/her emotional reactions to tinnitus.

  • TMJ treatment- dental TMJ treatment or bite alignment can help if jaw is misaligned.

  • Alternative treatments- vitamins, minerals, herbs, acupuncture, hypnosis, etc.; usually minimally risky.


American Tinnitus Assn., About Tinnitus,
www.ata.org/abouttinnitus/index.php, Email: tinnitus@ata.org
800-634-8978 voice
503-248-0024 FAX


Tinnitus Assistance Fund-
Eligible applicants may qualify for $750 to pay for treatment, travel
and prescribed devices. 800-634-8978

Laine Waggoner is the Director of HEAR (Hearing-loss Education And Relationships), which conducts support groups, facilitates seminars, and provides private coaching for individuals who are experiencing hearing loss.  Email: LaineWaggoner@dc.rr.com

Member of the Gallaudet University Peer Mentoring Certificate Program.

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