Unit 7 / 337 Harewood Road, Bishopdale

Tinnitus is the name for unwanted noises people hear in their ears or head. Everyone’s tinnitus is different – for some people it sounds like a ringing, others a buzzing or cicadas. Sometimes it’s random, and other times it’s constant or pulsatile (in time with your heart-beat).  Understanding what causes tinnitus, symptoms to look out for, and what treatments are open to you if you have tinnitus can help you understand how to keep your ear health at its best. 

What Primarily Causes Tinnitus?

There can be multiple causes of tinnitus, however most forms of tinnitus are caused by a problem in the auditory system (usually a hearing loss). Even a very mild hearing loss can cause tinnitus, and it’s more likely in people who have had damage to their ears from loud noise.

Tinnitus is essentially phantom limb pain (how somebody could have an arm amputated but still “feel” phantom sensations). This is the brain’s way of telling you that there is something wrong or missing, and it’s still trying to send signals to the dead/lost area.

This is what happens with tinnitus and hearing loss. Your brain is noticing that it’s missing some sounds and it’s trying to replicate it to fill in the gaps. This is why we often see a high-pitched hearing loss with high-pitched tinnitus. Typically it’s at the pitch where the hearing loss is the worst. High-pitched hearing loss is the most common, therefore many people’s tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing.

If the tinnitus is related to hearing loss, it is typically long-standing and slowly becomes more prevalent over time. However, tinnitus can also have a sudden “trigger”, such as a loud concert, an accident or a period of unusually high stress.

What Other Health Conditions Contribute to Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can also be related to:

  • Earwax impaction or ear health problems (e.g infection, sinus pathology)
  • Cardiovascular problems (e.g blood pressure problems, strokes, blood supply issues)
  • Ototoxic medications (e.g high use of some antibiotics, painkillers, blood pressure medications, chemotherapy, anxiety/depression medications)
  • Vestibular conditions (e.g Meniere’s Disease)

Stress and an elevated heart-rate also increase the instance of tinnitus. We recommend a healthy diet and regular exercise, reducing caffeine and energy drinks, and increasing calming activities such as meditation and yoga.

If you have suddenly noticed an onset of tinnitus and your hearing test shows normal results, we would typically ask if you have had a particularly stressful time, changed medications or had any other health diagnoses, as these things may be related. 

If it is something temporary (e.g earwax impaction, short-term medication), the tinnitus should disappear again once the cause is resolved.

How Can I Cure Tinnitus?

Unfortunately, there is no “cure” for tinnitus. However, if the cause of the tinnitus is hearing loss, then wearing hearing aids consistently reduces the volume of the tinnitus. This is because we are increasing your hearing back to where it should be. Your brain notices the improvement and stops producing as much tinnitus.

For some lucky people, the tinnitus disappears entirely, but for most people it reduces to the point it’s less noticeable. In some cases, hearing aids alone cannot help the tinnitus. In these cases, most new hearing devices have a  “tinnitus masker” function in them. Depending on the type of tinnitus, we can activate these features to help. Some hearing device manufacturers are better for certain types of tinnitus than others, and we discuss this in consultation with you. 

In the interim, masking sounds can also be helpful. With tinnitus, the key is to have background sounds at the same level or just softer than your tinnitus. This helps train your brain to not focus on the tinnitus as much. A hearing aid manufacturer Starkey makes a great app (free on the App-store or Playstore) called Starkey Relax. This app has many options for nature sounds to help reduce annoyance of your tinnitus. You don’t need hearing aids to use the app!

Bradi checking hearing and ear health at her audiology clinic in Christchurch

What should I do if I have Tinnitus?

If you are experiencing tinnitus,
please discuss this with our audiologist.
We would first do a full diagnostic
hearing test to rule out any hearing
loss cause and discuss your options
with you at the appointment.