Is that ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound that no-one but you can hear all in your head?
That sensation—hearing a noise with no external source—is called tinnitus, and it’s considered a symptom rather than a disease.
And while the noise is very real in one sense—and in fact, can be maddeningly intrusive and bothersome—it typically doesn’t originate in the ear itself, but in the brain.
Most commonly, tinnitus, which affects up to 37% of Canadian adults, is a symptom of some degree of hearing loss. (Hints that point to other, potentially more serious causes: hearing the noise on one side only, or a feeling that it’s throbbing in sync with your heart. In these cases, you should see a specialist to rule out underlying medical problems.)
But how on Earth could noise be caused by a decline in your ability to hear?
Essentially, because the brain is always scanning your surroundings for sound, when the flow of signals sent to it by the ear slows down or stops, your brain tries to fill the gap by ‘talking to itself’.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a quick fix for most causes of chronic tinnitus, meaning tinnitus that lasts six months or more.
However, just because we don’t have a medication or operation to cure tinnitus, doesn’t mean there are no treatments that can help loosen its grip on your life.
My heartfelt thanks to the interviewees who so kindly shared their stories and expertise:
- Dr. Jason Beyea, an ear physician and surgeon at the Kingston Ear Institute in Kingston, ON, and assistant professor and research director in Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Queen’s University and Kingston Health Sciences Centre.
- Allison De La Lis, an audiologist and doctor of audiology at the Kingston Ear Institute in Kingston, ON.
- Rodney Taylor, a Cornwall, ON audiologist with a doctorate and advanced training in treating tinnitus.
- Riziero Vertolli, a photographer and college instructor in Mississauga, ON.
- American Tinnitus Association
- British Tinnitus Association
- Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
- Canadian Hearing Society
- College of Audiologists and Speech-Language Pathologists of Ontario
- Speech Audiology Canada (click on ‘For the Public’ tab)
- Links to provincial and territorial associations