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Ringing in the ears? It could be tinnitus

Simon James

Many people experience noise or ringing in the head or ears called tinnitus, but what happens when this noise impacts our daily lives? This week on “Take Care,” we discuss tinnitus with Dr. Tammy Kordas.

Dr. Tammy Kordas is an audiologist and clinical instructor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Syracuse University. Dr. Kordas is also a supervising audiologist at the Gebbie Speech Language Hearing Clinic at Syracuse University.

Tinnitus is noise or sound in one or both of the ears, it can also be in the center of the head, and it’s a sound that is unrelated to any external sound that’s going on in the environment,” says Kordas.

Tinnitus is very common and considered a top health problem, impacting more than 45 million people in the United States; 30 percent of the population who have tinnitus are 65 years of age and older.

Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease and is frequently associated with many conditions including noise-induced hearing loss, various over-the-counter and prescribed medications, as well as fluid in the ear.

Symptoms of tinnitus itself include ringing, buzzing, chirping sounds, or roaring in the ears or head. Symptoms vary per individual in regard to pitch intensity and frequency of the noise.

“Once an individual has it it typically is not curable, but it is treatable,” says Kordas of tinnitus.

When working with patients impacted by tinnitus, Kordas uses a technique called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, which has proved to be effective. TRT is for those who find tinnitus truly bothersome to the point of depression, anxiety, loss of concentration or loss of sleep. This method focuses on habituating the body’s reaction to tinnitus, as well as decreasing perception of tinnitus itself. Over time, the individual will perceive their tinnitus as being weaker and unimportant, and therefore the tinnitus does not impact their quality of life.

The key elements of TRT include counseling and sound therapy. Sound therapy can include the use of hearing aids for those with hearing loss, as well as the use of sound machines or sound pillows to decrease perception of tinnitus.

“An enriched sound environment is the key to managing tinnitus,” says Kordas.

The symptoms of tinnitus are most bothersome in quiet environments, so avoiding this situation is helpful.

According to Kordas, noise exposure is by far the most common cause of tinnitus perception, so decreasing duration and intensity of loud sound can also help.

If you’re wondering how loud is too loud in regard to the use of headphones, there is a basic rule of thumb for noise control.

Kordas says, “If the person next to you can hear it, it’s way too loud.”