Tinnitus in a nutshell

March 25, 2012 by Martin Fortin
L’acouphène en bref
If you frequently hear a noise in your ears or in your head for more than five minutes, when there is no actual sound to be heard, you may have tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition that affects 10% to 15% of the population. That rate is four times higher among people who work in noisy environments.

In over 90% of cases, only the person with tinnitus can hear it; the sound is specific to the individual. It is most often described as a whistling or buzzing or as the noise made by a high-voltage power line. The perceived intensity is often related to the subject’s degree of stress or fatigue, and the intensity measured by audiometry is rarely more than 5 dB over hearing threshold. Therefore, there is only a very slight correlation between audiometric levels and the impact on the subject’s quality of life, ascertained by means of a questionnaire. The extent to which tinnitus is an irritation varies greatly from one person to the next and tends to decline significantly over a 6-to-24-month period. Nevertheless, about 3%* of individuals with tinnitus claim the effects are serious even after this period. The symptoms take different forms, including difficulty falling asleep, concentrating or hearing, as well as emotional difficulties.

A wide range of treatments and medication have been tested in the effort to eliminate tinnitus, but few of them have proven successful or performed better than a placebo. Some had negative side effects or were specific to certain conditions. All the same, there are some treatments that can make tinnitus less audible or less bothersome. For individuals with hearing loss, the use of hearing aids can make tinnitus less audible in over 70% of cases. Adaptation therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) can be beneficial in learning to live with tinnitus. Other types of therapy are currently being studied, and preliminary results are promising.

Although tinnitus is often a symptom of hearing loss, it cannot lead to hearing loss itself. However, if the condition is accompanied by intense dizzy spells or a sudden loss of auditory acuity, it’s a good idea to consult an audiologist right away for a hearing test.

For further information, don’t hesitate to consult an audiologist at a Lobe Santé auditive et communication multidisciplinary clinic.