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2 June 2016 at 6:52PM

Tinnitus in 10 Questions

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Marie-Josée Paul
In: Prevention

1. What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a perception of sound in absence of an external source. This physical condition is caused by a fault in the hearing system.

2. What are the different sounds of tinnitus?

The list is long! The most often reported sound is whistling in the ears. Patients also describe sounds such as pulsing, buzzing, ringing, humming, chirping, etc.

3. How common is tinnitus?

Around 700,000 Quebecers suffer from tinnitus, 10% of which show severe symptoms that greatly hinder their quality of life.

4. What causes tinnitus?

Tinnitus can be brought on by a number of causes and factors.

  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise
  • Ear disorders or damage to the auditory nerve
  • Certain diseases (such as diabetes)
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Allergies and sinusitis
  • Fatigue, stress or depression
  • Certain medications
     

5. Is it dangerous?

Tinnitus is not dangerous. However, when symptoms are loud and ongoing, they do become very disturbing. They can lead to insomnia, irritability, impaired concentration, isolation, even depression in more severe cases.

6. Is tinnitus an inner-ear or cerebral problem?

According to latest research, tinnitus is a combination of both a loss of hearing due to a problem in the internal ear (sometimes very subtle) and a disproportionate response in the brain, leading to the perception of sounds that don't really exist.

7. Are all cases of tinnitus the same?

Given the complexity of the hearing system, tinnitus can be experienced in several different ways. It can set in suddenly or gradually, it can be present in one ear or in both, it can be occasional or ongoing, it can even be perceived in different areas of the head.

8. Can the symptoms be dampened?

Most people suffering from tinnitus are especially bothered by symptoms at bedtime because of the low level of noise. Listening to soft music, the ticking of an alarm clock, radio static picked up from a wrong frequency or the sound of a fan are all tricks that can help dampen the symptoms. In short, best to avoid complete silence!

9. Can hearing aids help reduce tinnitus?

Hearing aids can help reduce discomfort in certain patients who suffer from mild to moderate hearing loss by making tinnitus less perceivable. When hearing aids aren't enough, patients can also opt for a white noise generator. This device emits noise similar to that of a radio tuned in between two stations, at low volume.

10. Can tinnitus disappear on its own?

In around 25% of cases, tinnitus disappears suddenly, without any treatment.