Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Clinic

Tinnitus is the term for hearing noises in your ears when there is no outside source of the sounds.

Two Broad Types of Tinnitus

  • Middle-ear tinnitus (produced in the middle ear behind your eardrum)
    • Rare
    • A result of hearing your muscles twitch or movement of blood in blood vessels
    • Sometimes these can be treated with an operation
  • Sensorineural tinnitus (produced by your nervous system)
    • Much more common
    • Approximately one in every 10 Americans will experience some form of tinnitus, or ringing in the ears
    • The mechanisms that produce tinnitus are not completely understood

There are many different causes of tinnitus.

Common Causes of Tinnitus

  • Age
  • Head injury
  • Medications
  • Meniere’s disease
    • An inner ear disorder that involves hearing loss and dizziness
  • Noise exposure

However, for many people, the exact cause of tinnitus is unknown.

People react very differently to their tinnitus

  • Some find it a little bothersome, but largely ignore it
  • Others are distressed by their tinnitus and have difficulty concentrating and getting to sleep

Treatments for Tinnitus

Counseling

Tinnitus often affects the patient’s emotional wellbeing, hearing, sleep, and concentration abilities. Strategies for these four areas are discussed in detail.

Sound therapy

Most patients report that the presence of background noise or music is helpful.

These sounds can:

  • Partially mask the tinnitus, when background sound mixes with the tinnitus, but the patient is still able to hear the tinnitus
  • Totally mask the tinnitus, when background sound covers up the tinnitus completely
  • Reduce its loudness (while still hearing the tinnitus)
  • Distract the patient from attending to the tinnitus

The types of sounds often used in sound therapy include:

  • Broadband noise (heard as “sssshhhh”). Many patients report that it is easier to listen to the noise of a “ssssshhhh” sound than it is to listen to their tinnitus.
  • Music, usually soft, light, background music (e.g., classical baroque, simple piano music)
  • Sound produced particularly for relaxation or distraction (e.g., waves lapping against the shore, raindrops falling on leaves—sometimes these are combined with light music)

There are several different devices that produce these sounds:

  • Wearable devices that resemble hearing aids
  • Wearable devices with earphones or insert earphones (portable cassette or CD players)
  • Non-wearable devices that include radios, tape players, compact disc players or sound generators specifically produced for relaxation or tinnitus. Some are meant to be used at the bedside with timers and can include many different sound types.
  • Sound therapy does not have to be used all the time. It is possible to obtain a noise generator and a hearing aid in the same wearable device.

Hearing aids

Some patients with tinnitus also have a hearing loss and can benefit from a hearing aid. Better communication reduces stress, which could reduce tinnitus. Hearing aids also amplify background noise, and many tinnitus patients report that their tinnitus is better when they listen to low levels of background noise.

Psychological therapies

Cognitive Behavior Modification
This approach helps you to talk about tinnitus in a reasonable fashion, and to plan and carry out trials to change the way you think about tinnitus and react to it.
Relaxation Therapy
There are many relaxation techniques, for example using recorded soft music or biofeedback, which can help patients relax when they are particularly bothered by their tinnitus.

Medications

Although medications generally do not cure tinnitus, they can be helpful in reducing stress and in getting to sleep.

Interested in Participating in Tinnitus Research?

Individuals interested in participating in a tinnitus study should complete our online questionnaire, which will help us determine your eligibility.

As part of our ongoing research, we invite our patients to complete surveys about their experience with tinnitus. If you are interested in sharing information about your condition, please consider completing the following surveys:

Learn more about our tinnitus and hyperacusis research.

Questionnaire for Patients

  • Tinnitus and Hyperacusis Clinic: Some people report that many sounds are too loud for them, however these same sounds do not appear too loud to others. This is called hyperacusis. We invite you to participate in a survey with the hope of understanding and better treating hyperacusis. You must be 18 years of age or older to complete this survey.

Questionnaires for Providers

We created a series of questionnaires that may be useful for health care professionals working with patients who experience tinnitus. These questionnaires may be used to identify specific areas of a patient’s life that are affected by tinnitus, as well as monitor a patient’s progress with a particular treatment. Translations of these questionnaires are also available in a growing number of languages.

Tinnitus Podcast

Care Team

Clinic Staff, Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery