Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of an external sound source. It can take on any number of characteristics and is usually a sound that only you can hear. You can experience tinnitus that varies from soft to loud and from low to high pitched. People describe their tinnitus in a number of ways, including a buzzing, clicking, ringing, white noise, and/or roaring sound. Although these descriptions are typical, each individual’s experience may be different.
According to the American Tinnitus Association, millions of Americans experience tinnitus, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public, more than 50 million Americans, experience some form of tinnitus. Roughly 20 million people struggle with burdensome, chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have debilitating tinnitus.
What’s more, studies show during the pandemic, individuals experienced new cases of tinnitus, and those who already had tinnitus reported that it became even worse. In fact, the British Tinnitus Association reported a surge in the number of people accessing its services, including a 256% increase in the number of web chats during the pandemic.
In addition, new research published in the American Medical Association Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery investigated the association of tinnitus and its interference in daily life with symptoms of depression and anxiety and poor sleep quality in a population-based sample of middle-aged and elderly persons in a cross-sectional analysis and during a 4-year follow-up.
This study involved 5,418 participants whose mean age was 69 years old. Compared with participants without tinnitus and those with non-bothersome tinnitus, participants with tinnitus that interfered with daily life reported more depression and anxiety symptoms and poorer sleep quality.
These results led the researchers to conclude that tinnitus is associated with more mental health problems in middle-aged and elderly person in the general population, especially when it interferes with daily life. This outcome suggests that mental health problems may be part of the burden of tinnitus.
What can you do for tinnitus?
Though you may see products advertised that claim to cure tinnitus, there is currently no scientifically-validated cure. However, there are treatment options that can ease the perceived burden of tinnitus, allowing patients to live more comfortable, productive lives.
The first step toward effectively managing tinnitus should be to find an audiologist with expertise in tinnitus. At Associated Audiologists, we offer a comprehensive tinnitus management program to assist in diagnosing and managing care for individuals who have tinnitus. Often, the best place to start is scheduling a diagnostic hearing evaluation to better understand and diagnose what is happening with your ears and auditory system.
The program’s services are provided by Susan Smittkamp, Au.D., Ph.D., tinnitus specialist. Dr. Smittkamp uses the most sophisticated technology available in the greater Kansas City area to diagnose and manage tinnitus.
For many patients with tinnitus, the latest digital hearing aids may be particularly useful in managing tinnitus. Some hearing aids include supplemental sound generator functionality (white noise or other sounds, such as chimes, played directly into the ear) that helps reduce the perception of tinnitus.
This makes it more difficult to consciously perceive tinnitus and helps the brain focus on outside, ambient noises. The impact of hearing aids is particularly strong for patients who have hearing loss in the same frequency range as their tinnitus.
Hearing aids also help by augmenting the external volume of activities such as a conversation, watching television or talking on the phone, above the perceived volume of tinnitus. As a result, these individuals may feel less personal frustration and social isolation.
In some cases, hearing aids work best as part of a structured tinnitus management plan. In other cases, an alternative option may be recommended. Associated Audiologists offers FDA-cleared options for tinnitus management.
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