The perception of sound, when no actual external noise is present, is commonly referred to as tinnitus, and it is much more common than people think. According to Statistics Canada (2019), approximately 37% of adult Canadians (or approximately 9.2 million people) have experienced it in the past year. Most patients describe it as the perception of ringing, buzzing, hissing, and roaring, among other less common sounds. For many, it is a passing sound that only happens occasionally; however, it is always present with little to no relief for some.
Those that experience bothersome tinnitus may report sleep disturbances, difficulty with concentration, anxiety, depression, stress, and various challenges in their relationships.
Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying condition. The most common causes are age-related hearing loss, noise-induced hearing loss, blockages in the ear canal, head/neck trauma, certain medications, and certain medical conditions. It is always recommended to have a hearing assessment and to speak to your physician about it, especially when it affects only one ear, is pulsatile, has a sudden onset, or is chronic. Once medical concerns have been ruled out, the focus becomes management.
Tinnitus How Do We Manage It
Although there is no known cure for tinnitus, many strategies can help manage tinnitus to help reduce one’s perception of it over time and its overall impact on one’s quality of life. When hearing loss is present, it must be treated appropriately. Other management strategies include sound therapy, stress reduction techniques, practising good sleep hygiene, and possibly seeing a counsellor for cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Implementing one or more of these strategies can be very beneficial and is known to help individuals to better cope with their tinnitus.
While the actual perception of tinnitus may persist, many people will naturally begin to habituate to the sound over time. The brain will eventually “lose interest” and will stop paying so much attention to it.
On a preventative front, hearing protection should always be worn when exposed to loud industrial or recreational noise, loud music, hunting etc. There are many types of over-the-counter and custom-made hearing protection available.