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WHAT IS TINNITUS?
Tinnitus is an abnormal perception of a sound perceived by a patient that is unrelated to an external source of stimulation. Tinnitus is a very common disorder. It may be intermittent, constant or fluctuant, mild or severe, and may vary from a low roaring sensation to high pitched ringing, buzzing, or hissing type of sound.
Most normal hearing people have experienced very short durations of tinnitus, usually in the form of ringing. While tinnitus is usually associated with hearing loss, there are cases where no measurable hearing loss is present (e.g. after attending a loud concert, head injury, poor diet, exposure to certain medications, etc.). However, the most common causes include overexposure to loud noises and the natural decline in hearing secondary to aging.
Current thinking suggests subjective tinnitus originates somewhere in the hearing centers of the brain. We know that the process of end-organ perceiving sound, with some interpretation of the sound as it makes it way to the brain. But, the final interpretation of sound is completed in the brain. Current tinnitus theory suggests that abnormalities in the ears are interpreted by the brain centers as sound; therefore, the patient hears sound. To the patient, the sound is as real as someone speaking to them.
Tinnitus is usually only mildly distracting. Most patients eventually learn to live with their constant sound(s). For others, the presence of tinnitus is frustrating and, in some cases, it can be debilitating. 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree. Of these, about 12 million have tinnitus which is severe enough to seek medical attention. Of those, about two million patients are so seriously debilitated by their tinnitus that they cannot function on a normal day-to-day basis.
To obtain more information about tinnitus, contact the American Tinnitus Association in Portland, Oregon.
Can Tinnitus be Helped? Tinnitus usually cannot be overcome with drugs or therapy; however, some forms of tinnitus can be partially "masked" using sound generators put into hearing aids (so called hearing aids with tinnitus maskers). To learn more, have your audiologist do a tinnitus test. Determine the approximate frequency or frequencies your tinnitus is located. If identiable, he can simulate sound that a tinnitus masker makes to give you a PROGNOSIS on the liklihood your tinnitus could be minimized while wearing the device.