Tinnitus is usually described as a ringing in the ears. However, whooshing, hissing, whistling, buzzing and humming are other common sounds of tinnitus. Tinnitus results from a multitude of potential causes and treatment options are just as varied.

The first step in treating tinnitus is uncovering what may be causing it. One of the challenges in tinnitus evaluation and treatment is that everyone experiences it differently. Measuring a subjective experience is very difficult.

Identifying the Tinnitus

  • How long has this been going on?
  • Is it intermittent or constant?
  • Is it worse at certain points of the day?
  • Is it a pulsating sensation?
  • In which ear do you hear the tinnitus? Both?
  • How loud is the noise?
  • Is the pitch high or low?
  • It the issue extremely bothersome or just a little irritating?
  • Are there certain conditions that make it worse such as exposure to noise or certain foods or beverages?
  • Does the sound change?

Tinnitus-specific tests

There are a few specific tests an audiologist may administer to help get a better understanding of the tinnitus you're experiencing. Here are some examples:

Pitch Matching Test

This test will help us to determine the approximate frequency of sound that you are hearing. For this exam, you will be asked to identify the pitch of your tinnitus as best as possible by comparing it to externally presented tones.

Loudness Matching Test

This will help us to quantify the level of the sound you are hearing, which could range from a whisper to a shout. It is more common for people to experience soft sounds than loud.

Visual Analog Scale

It can be used to determine perceived loudness, because the tinnitus is often perceived much louder than the decibel level that matches. On a scale from zero to 10, you'll be asked to scale the loudness. About 70 percent of patients will report a loudness value of six or higher.

Treating your tinnitus

Depending on the results of your hearing evaluation, you may get a recommendation for one of the following types of tinnitus treatment.

  • If you have hearing loss as well as tinnitus, hearing aids can often provide relief from your tinnitus while you are wearing them. Many hearing aids today even include tinnitus therapy features.
  • Tinnitus masking or noise suppression devices are common treatment options for tinnitus sufferers. This type of device is worn in the ear like a hearing aid and produces either a constant signal or tonal beats to compete with the sounds you're hearing. The hearing care professional will use the pitch matching and loudness matching tests to set the signal at a level and pitch similar to the tinnitus you are perceiving.
  • Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) uses cognitive behavioural therapy in combination with a masking device to help you learn to ignore the background ringing noise in your ears.
  • You can also use a free-standing white noise generating machine. Tinnitus generally gets worse when you're in a quiet space, so being able to bathe a room in background sound might be all you need to help you ignore the ringing in your ears.

Tinnitus medications

Although drugs cannot cure tinnitus, there are a few that will help suppress the symptoms you are experiencing. However, it's important to know that medications may come with side effects such as dry mouth, blurry vision and heart issues.

Leave it to the professionals

Tinnitus can be extremely frustrating and can leave you feeling overwhelmed and unsure about your next steps. Remember that you are not alone - tinnitus, while not well-understood, is common. Make an appointment with our audiologists who are specialized in tinnitus treatment. Be prepared to discuss your symptoms in detail so you can get relief and regain your quality of life.