Tinnitus, or Head Noise

Laura Davies, AuD

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no actual sound present in the environment. Tinnitus is often described as a high-pitched ringing, buzzing, hissing, or chirping sound. The sound can be perceived as coming from one or both ears, or from the head. There are many different causes and mechanisms for tinnitus, but the treatment and management strategies are often the same regardless of the cause. Below are some tips for managing tinnitus.

  • Environment sound enrichment is often very helpful. This can be as simple as having a fan or air filter running. There are many phone apps that generate pleasant nature sounds such as rainfall or waves crashing on the shore (the Resound Relief app is a good one). Television or music will do the trick as well. Whatever sound you use, the idea is to have it at a soft level in the background to mix with and provide distraction from the head noise.
  • There are several dietary agents that worsen tinnitus for some people: sodium, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine. Some people will notice a benefit to their tinnitus by reducing their intake of these agents.
  • Address stress and fatigue levels. Tinnitus perception involves increased activity in areas of the brain related to emotions and actions, the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system. This is partly why tinnitus can be so distressing and bothersome. Anything you can do to improve sleep and relaxation can have a beneficial effect on the tinnitus (e.g., meditation, good sleep hygiene, regular exercise, etc.).
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is highly effective for those suffering with tinnitus. Learning to manage your thought processes and reactions to the tinnitus often allows you to have some sense of control over the problem that many people find an invaluable tool. CBT can be done with a licensed therapist, or at home with instructional videos or a self help book.

Tinnitus has many causes, but the main cause is damage to the auditory system. A diagnostic hearing evaluation by a Doctor of Audiology is recommended for anyone experiencing tinnitus.