What are the noises in my head?

Written by by Sarah Fontaine, AAA-F. Posted in December

The perception of ringing, buzzing, or humming in the absence of external sounds is formally known as tinnitus. Approximately 50 million Americans experience some degree of tinnitus, and nearly 20 million of those individuals are chronically burdened by it (American Tinnitus Association).


There are many factors that can cause tinnitus to occur. Hearing loss due to aging or noise exposure is commonly accompanied by tinnitus. Exactly how hearing loss is associated with tinnitus is still being investigated by researchers. However, it is known that hearing loss can cause specific changes in how the brain processes sound. As the brain receives less sound stimulation around a specific pitch (frequency), it begins to adapt and change. Tinnitus is hypothesized to act as the brain’s way of filling in the missing sound information it no longer receives from the auditory system (American Tinnitus Association).

Other variables such as excessive ear wax, head/neck injuries, traumatic brain injuries, ototoxic (ear-damaging) medications, and various health conditions can potentially cause the development of tinnitus. Stress can also play a significant role in tinnitus.

As the holidays approach and we become occupied with chores and to-do lists, stress can certainly present itself. Tinnitus, alone, does not necessarily indicate any one of the items listed. Individuals experiencing tinnitus should consult their physician or an audiologist for a full examination to diagnose the underlying cause of symptoms. Many times, discovering the underlying root of tinnitus can help with coping and working through the tinnitus.

An audiologist is a hearing healthcare professional who is able to diagnose and treat individuals who experience hearing loss, tinnitus, and dizziness. During a tinnitus assessment, an audiologist reviews a thorough case history that investigates various aspects of the individual’s tinnitus, including onset, medical history, factors that relieve/worsen tinnitus, sleep, etc. Additional questionnaires are utilized to help quantify the impact of the tinnitus on the patient’s daily life.

The diagnostic portion of the evaluation includes a comprehensive hearing assessment along with additional measures to help quantify the tinnitus. Ultra-high-frequency pure tones are evaluated to gain an understanding of hearing acuity outside the standard frequency range tested. Distortion product otoacoustic emissions (DPOAEs) testing is another diagnostic tool that provides useful information on the integrity of the sensory cells in the organ of hearing. Lastly, a pitch and loudness match of the tinnitus is determined to help place parameters on the perception of the patient’s tinnitus, which can ultimately guide treatment options.

Various treatment options are available for individuals with tinnitus. Unfortunately there is no “magic pill” to solve the problem. Many patients who have hearing loss and tinnitus find benefit and a reduction in the perception of their tinnitus by wearing hearing aids. Hearing aids are able to provide the brain with access to sounds through amplification, which allows the brain to hear more meaningful auditory input, such as speech. Individuals without hearing loss have also experienced success with hearing aid use, as various ear-level devices have the ability to deliver various masking sounds to help relieve the tinnitus.

Additional digital, compact devices are clinically proven medical devices that demonstrate long-term relief from tinnitus by playing customized tones to help desensitize the patient to their tinnitus (e.g., Neuromonics Oasis).

Another product that has shown great success among our patients is the Sound Pillow, which is a pillow with an embedded speaker. This device was designed by an acoustic engineer and is able to produce relaxing sounds when trying to fall asleep each night. The Sound Pillow has the flexibility for various audio inputs, e.g. streaming iPhone music, sports games, and audio books. The Sound Pillow has provided significant relief for individuals who are burdened by the impact of tinnitus on their sleep hygiene.

Many patients have shared their battles with tinnitus and its effect on their everyday life. A recent patient was referred to our clinic for severe, bothersome tinnitus. The patient noted that he felt defeated and depressed, and had lost hope for any solutions to help his tinnitus. He had sought consultation from an array of healthcare professionals but felt lost and alone. He reported previously trying a specific brand of hearing aid, but did not find relief from that product. After a thorough tinnitus consultation and trial of hearing aids that specialize in tinnitus masking, the patient found significant relief from his tinnitus. He stated it was the first time in years that he did not hear the sounds in his head.

It is important to note that each person has various factors that can certainly impact the success of tinnitus treatment. For this gentleman, it was simply listening and maintaining a flexible approach to the trial of treatment options tailored to his concerns. This patient’s testimony serves as an account of the impact tinnitus can have on our well-being, and how each patient’s tinnitus journey is unique and requires individualized care and attention.

If you or a loved one suffers from the effects of tinnitus, take action sooner rather than later to help lessen the burden. Please call the audiologists at the Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic to make an appointment for a comprehensive tinnitus assessment.❦