(Pause. Let’s discuss pronunciation. I’m asked all the time: is it tin-EYE-tis or TIN-uh-tis. Strangely, patients nearly always pronounce the word tin-EYE-tis, while audiologists generally say TIN-uh-tis. You say tom-AY-toe, I say tom-AH-toe. I’m not sure at what point this phonetic parting-of-ways occurred or why, but as long as you don’t call it “tendonitis” then we’re speaking the same language.)
Tinnitus is a complicated symptom resulting from a dysfunctional auditory system. That’s important to understand: tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom. Generally, it is not a sign that there is something catastrophically wrong with your health, but rather the result of some kind of damage to your auditory system.
Ultimately, we “hear” with our brains. Our ears are tools that send sound to the parts of our brain that process and make sense of that information. When the ears are damaged, the brain does not receive all the information that it should, and it knows this. So, the brain tries to fix the problem by “turning up the volume.” Activity in those auditory centers of the brain goes up, but this attempt to correct the auditory deficit ultimately fails. What you are left with is tinnitus.
Here’s another way to think about it. Imagine that you are playing a record or CD, and you’ve reached the end of the album. No music is playing. If you turn up the volume, what do you hear? Static or hissing. Likewise, when the auditory system is damaged, “turning up the volume” results in unwanted noise, but it cannot bring back “the music.”
You may have been told that there’s no cure for tinnitus, and that is true. But it is patently false that simply because a cure doesn’t exist that you must learn to “just live with it.” Unfortunately, tinnitus remains an enigma to many, even to some healthcare providers. The good news is that for most people, tinnitus can be helped.
If tinnitus is the result of auditory deprivation, then correcting that depravity is the most fundamental component of any successful tinnitus management plan. For some, this may involve incorporating sound therapies into their daily routines, such as the use of soothing music or white noise machines, particularly during those times of the day or night when their tinnitus is liable to be most bothersome. For the majority of tinnitus sufferers who also have measurable hearing loss, hearing aids are a crucial component of tinnitus treatment. While these amazing little devices may not cure hearing loss, they significantly help restore auditory function, and consequently decrease tinnitus severity.
The first step in better managing your tinnitus is to schedule a comprehensive evaluation with a doctor of audiology. During that appointment, your audiologist will conduct a thorough review of your medical history and complete a battery of audiologic tests to help identify possible causes of your tinnitus and to determine the most effective management strategies. While we may not be able to convince you that TIN-uh-tis is the better pronunciation, you will walk away better educated about this intrusive—but manageable—symptom.
1See “Tinnitus – Symptoms and Causes” (2020). Mayo Clinic. www.mayoclinc.org
2See “Statistics and Facts About Hearing Loss” (2020). Hearing Loss Association of America. www.hearingloss.org