When Should You See an Audiologist About Tinnitus?

audiologist administering hearing test to elderly patient

Although tinnitus isn’t usually connected to a serious or life-threatening condition, it still warrants swift medical attention. By identifying the cause of your symptoms quickly, you can obtain the most effective treatments and the best form of symptom relief. Tinnitus is a condition that can impact your quality of life and make it difficult to complete your day-to-day activities.

What is tinnitus?

When people experience tinnitus, they hear sounds that have no external source. These sounds are typically hissing, ringing, buzzing, whooshing, grinding, whistling and humming, although some people may hear music or voices as well. Known as pulsatile tinnitus, you may also notice that you hear sounds that are in time with your heartbeat.

For some people, these noises are constant and overpowering. People with severe tinnitus may find it difficult to concentrate and experience insomnia, so the condition can certainly have a devastating impact on sufferers. In some instances, the noises caused by tinnitus may be a mild annoyance, rather than having a debilitating impact. 

However, not everyone who experiences tinnitus will notice symptoms constantly. If the symptoms of tinnitus come and go, you may be tempted to delay seeing an audiologist. However, even if your symptoms aren’t having a severe impact on your day-to-day life, it’s still important to visit your audiologist as quickly as possible. 

What causes tinnitus? 

The causes of tinnitus are not yet completely understood. Some patients may experience tinnitus at the same time as Meniere’s Disease or vertigo, so it seems likely that there is a link between these two conditions. Similarly, tinnitus may occur as a consequence of an ear infection or even a buildup of earwax. Alternatively, the abnormal growth of bone within the inner ear could be a cause of tinnitus in some people. 

However, tinnitus can also be associated with hearing loss. Indeed, it’s common for people to experience ringing or buzzing in the ears when their hearing function is beginning to deteriorate. Age-related hearing loss typically occurs because the hair cells in the cochlea are damaged or lost as we get older. Often termed, ‘wear and tear,’ this damage can cause a loss of hearing function and tinnitus. 

Although the tiny sensory cells in the cochlea can be lost over time, they can also be damaged due to exposure to loud noises. When this happens, the exposure to prolonged loud noise or one-off excessive noises could cause hearing loss and tinnitus to occur.

Stress and anxiety have also been linked to the onset of tinnitus, although it’s not clear whether anxiety and stress could cause tinnitus to occur or whether the symptoms become more noticeable during times of high stress. 

Whilst there are a variety of causes of tinnitus, damage to the sensory hair cells within the cochlea is believed to be the most common. For some people, the symptoms of tinnitus have no clear cause, but a comprehensive exam conducted by an audiologist will determine whether there is a root cause behind the symptoms you’re experiencing. 

Can tinnitus be treated? 

All types of tinnitus can either be managed or treated, so visiting your audiologist can help to relieve symptoms quickly. Depending on the cause of your symptoms, treatment may provide a complete resolution to tinnitus. 

If you are experiencing tinnitus symptoms because of an ear infection or build-up of earwax, for example, treating the infection and/or removing the wax should also resolve the symptoms of tinnitus. 

If your symptoms are due to damage to the hair cells in the cochlea, your audiologist may want to address any loss of hearing function you’re experiencing. In some instances, sound deprivation due to hearing loss can cause the brain to produce sounds of its own, thus causing the ringing, hissing, humming or buzzing in your ears. 

Once your hearing function has been improved, via hearing aids, for example, you are no longer deprived of sound and the brain has no reason to continue producing any noise. This ensures the symptoms of tinnitus can be resolved. 

However, if your tinnitus symptoms have no clear cause or they persist despite treatment, there are additional management options to pursue. Your audiologist can determine whether sound therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy and/or tinnitus retraining therapy is a suitable way to manage your symptoms and provide you with the expert advice you need. Hearing aids with masking features may also be recommended.

Consulting your audiologist about tinnitus

If your tinnitus has a treatable cause, it’s important to speak with an audiologist about your symptoms. By seeing an audiologist quickly, you can obtain effective treatment and management before any further damage occurs.

To learn more, contact The Speech & Hearing Center at (423) 622-6900 today.