What Is Tinnitus?

Hi Audiology Friends and Fam!

Hope this message finds you well and you’re continuing to find a socially distant way to connect with people! To keep up our tradition of educating and (hopefully) entertaining our patient population, I’ve decided to embark on a grand journey – the journey of tinnitus education.

What is tinnitus? How on earth do you say it? How do we make it better? Is it indicative of a super scary underlying diagnosis? HELP?!?!

We are going to tackle all of these questions and many more – never fear, your friendly neighborhood audiologists are here! With a five-part series on all things tinnitus! You heard me, FIVE PARTS, we have a lot to cover!! Today, we’re going simple and discussing what tinnitus is. Over the coming weeks we’ll also cover how to assess, and treat tinnitus, as well as our own Andros Protocol for tinnitus evaluation.

We’re going to start here, with the basics – what is tinnitus? You’re about to find out!

Tinnitus is defined as the perception or sensation of hearing sound when no external sound is present – the hallmarks include perceiving/hearing the sound involuntarily, and the sound originating in the head
rather than being externally produced.

People can hear a variety of sounds, all of which are covered under the umbrella of a tinnitus diagnosis, but the most common variations include: ringing, buzzing, roaring, chirping, or hissing.

The first step in assessing a person’s tinnitus involves placing the symptoms into a series of classifications or categories. The different types of tinnitus affect the management plan that will be put into place, or help your audiologist decide if you even need a management plan! See below for the different category types for tinnitus, and see if you can pinpoint which category you fall into.

There are many sources of information that suggest many types of risk factors and potential underlying contributors to tinnitus (see below for a graphic of risk factors/associated conditions for tinnitus listed by www.asha.org).

However, there is no one answer to what causes tinnitus, and how it originates in our brain and auditory system. The brain is an intensely complex piece of machinery, and we are still theorizing about the intricate process of tinnitus, and why it happens. Currently the predominant theories suggest that all tinnitus – including tinnitus believed to be caused by cochlear damage (associated with hearing loss) – originates in the central auditory system (in the brain, not the cochlea).

Here’s something to consider when thinking about your tinnitus – it really is more common than most people think. The friendly neighborhood audiologist writing this blog entry is currently experiencing her constant, non-bothersome tinnitus in both ears with some level of amusement! Per the U.S. Center for Disease Control in 2011-2012, 15% of Americans have tinnitus. For most people, tinnitus is non- bothersome (it doesn’t really get in our way), but for others, it can be quite debilitating and troublesome. There is no one way to experience tinnitus – it is a highly subjective condition, and each case is going to be unique, with its own trials and tribulations. No matter how you feel about your tinnitus – your feelings are valid! Left to its own devices, debilitating tinnitus may impact a person’s quality of life in a variety of different ways, including thoughts, emotions, sleep, concentration, socialization, physical health, and even economic well-being, so it’s important to ask for help in trying to manage tinnitus if it begins to overwhelm you. That’s what we’re here for!

Well, THAT was a LOT of information, but I believe that covers the bases as far as basics are concerned.

Oh wait! I forgot to answer the number one question I get about tinnitus on a daily basis:

it can be pronounced two different ways, TIN-ni-tus or tin-EYE-tus. Both pronunciations are technically correct, but these audiologists were taught the TIN-ni-tus version, so that’s what we go with. That’s our answer – WE’RE ALL CORRECT!

I hope this has been instructive and (at least a little bit) fun! I’ve got a few more of these ready to go, but am also open to suggestions if you have burning questions that you’d really like answered about tinnitus – send them to the following email and we’ll try to get them covered!

Stay safe and be well, all of you, and we’ll talk soon!

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