Tinnitus, or “ringing” in the ears, can be very annoying and can disturb our thoughts, cause anxiety, and interfere with getting a good night’s sleep. Many people don’t know that tinnitus “lives” in our brains, not our ears. According to the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, and there is a long list of reasons this symptom shows up. Most people go everyday without ‘hearing’ their tinnitus, but sometimes the brain’s awareness and emotions control-center, called the Limbic system, alerts you to a “problem” related to the auditory processing center of the brain.
Recently, I saw a patient who came to see me specifically because she started noticing tinnitus. She saw her family doctor who did all the necessary medical assessments to make sure there wasn’t a health-related cause of her tinnitus. She was noticing some difficulty understanding speech, and didn’t think it was a problem, but her tinnitus was causing her a lot of frustration and annoyance. Her hearing test showed a significant hearing loss, and a hearing aid was recommended to help her brain to hear better. Often, if we help the brain to “hear better” with a hearing aid, the symptom of tinnitus can be reduced and managed. In this patient’s case, the tinnitus was no longer present as soon as the hearing aid was fit on her ear. Her symptom was reduced by providing adequate amplification to the auditory system, and the brain no longer had a “problem”. Not everyone’s tinnitus is caused from hearing loss, and not everyone’s story has the same ending . Sometimes tinnitus is still present with use of hearing aids, but most of the time the annoyance from it can be reduced significantly through use of the auditory system. If you are having symptoms of tinnitus, a hearing test is a common medical assessment to determine the cause of tinnitus and/or hearing loss and to find a treatment to improve your quality of life.
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