Tinnitus is a condition where an individual hears sounds in their ears or head that are not caused by an external source. The sound can vary from person to person and can be described as ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, or clicking.

10-15% of Americans [about 50 million] experience tinnitus. It is one of the most common health conditions in the country and the #1 service-related disability among US veterans.[1] Economic consequences of tinnitus are significant and cost society an estimated $26 billion annually due to lost income, productivity, and health expenses.[2]

Tinnitus, hyperacusis (heightened sensitivity to sound) and hearing loss often occur together and can be triggered by multiple factors and medical conditions such as: cochlear damage from loud noise or ototoxic drugs, cerumen impaction, acoustic trauma, head injury, and cardiovascular conditions.

There have been reports of tinnitus in some individuals who have had COVID-19, but it is not yet clear how common this symptom is or what causes it. Tinnitus is a common symptom of many viral infections, including influenza, and it is possible that it may be associated with COVID-19 as well.

There is some concern that the coronavirus may cause some neurological symptoms.[3] There is some initial evidence that the virus may cause damage to the hearing organs of the inner ear. In an early study of twenty patients who were confirmed positive of non-COVID infected peers, carriers of COVID-19 experienced a deleterious effect on cochlear hair cell functions despite being asymptomatic.[4]

Medical intervention is important and can uncover the cause of tinnitus, provide reassurance, and present patients with the opportunity to manage and treat symptoms as well as identify any co-existing hearing deficits. Not addressing tinnitus symptoms can adversely affect quality of life and health status.[5]

The aim of any successful treatment plan is to help reduce symptoms and increase the patient’s ability to manage their tinnitus. While there is still no scientifically proven cure for most types of tinnitus, many treatment options or tools do exist that help reduce the perceived hardship of tinnitus. Each case of tinnitus is different and the “best” treatment option usually involves implementing multiple strategies.

Reasons why patients do not receive tinnitus care are vast as well. Tinnitus evaluation requires sufficient time for thorough assessment and to address the psychological impact tinnitus has on each patient.

If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is important to seek help from an audiologist. An audiologist is a healthcare professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating hearing and balance disorders, including tinnitus.

Some common tinnitus treatments

  1. Counseling: Tinnitus can be a distressing condition that can cause anxiety and depression. Counseling can help you cope with the emotional and psychological impact of tinnitus.
  2. Hearing aids: Hearing aids may help reduce the symptoms of tinnitus by providing sound enrichment to the environment, which can help mask the tinnitus sound. Hearing aids can also improve communication, reduce stress, and improve quality of life, which can have a positive effect on tinnitus symptoms.
  3. Sound therapy: This involves using external sounds to mask or cover up the tinnitus sound. This can be achieved through the use of white noise machines, or specialized tinnitus sound therapy devices.
  4. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a type of talk therapy that helps you change negative thought patterns and behaviors associated with tinnitus.
  5. Medications: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help alleviate tinnitus symptoms.
  6. Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): This is a type of therapy that aims to retrain your brain to ignore the tinnitus sound.

Try out some of the many tinnitus apps: American Tinnitus association has a good list of them here:  https://www.ata.org/about-tinnitus/patient-tools/apps/   

Your audiologist will work with you to determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs. It is important to seek treatment early to prevent the condition from worsening and to improve your quality of life.

[1] American Tinnitus Association. www.ATA.org

[2] Tinnitus. National Institutes of Health. National Institute on Deafness and Other Commnication Disorders (NIH, NIDCD). https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/tinnitus

[3] Neurologic Manifestations of Hospitalized Patients With Coronavirus Disease 2019 in Wuhan, China https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamaneurology/fullarticle/2764549

[4] Audiological profile of asymptomatic Covid-19 PCR-positive cases. https://www.cbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151386

[5] Carmody N. Through the Health Provider’s Lens: Identifying Barriers to Tinnitus Care, The Hearing Journal: November 2018. 71(11):32,34,36