Tinnitus is the perception of a sound that has no external source. Patients will report “ringing”, “humming”, “buzzing”, and “crickets”. It can be constant or come and go, it can be soft sometimes and loud other times. Although there is no external source for tinnitus, it is not a phantom sound- there is real neural activity in your brain that you are hearing as your tinnitus. While tinnitus typically begins with a hearing loss, it is not exclusively an auditory problem. It is a result of neurological changes within the auditory system and within the parts of the brain that influence conscious attention and emotional state. No single explanation applies to all cases, but the process outlined below describes one of the more commonly accepted theories about what causes tinnitus. When the natural balance is upset by a hearing loss, the neurological activity is altered, and this altered activity is then interpreted by the brain as sound. This results in whistling or ringing sounds commonly known as tinnitus.
Tinnitus most commonly results from hearing loss caused by exposure to excessive or loud noises, however, it can also be caused by aging, ototoxic drugs, temporal-mandibular joint disorder (TMJ), depression, anxiety, Lyme disease, thyroid disorders, ear infections, or even wax in the ear. Normally, background neurological activity in the brain is covered up by everyday sounds. Neurological changes may then cause the perceived sound to be more noticeable and disturbing. For some people, the presence of tinnitus is troubling, and so the brain treats it as a threat and focuses on it, increasing awareness. This “increased awareness” can lead to stress, resulting in further enhancement by the emotional centers of the brain, and further amplification of the tinnitus.
Additionally, the brain can try to compensate for the hearing loss by “turning up” the sensitivity of the hearing system. This not only amplifies the tinnitus but can also make ordinary sounds uncomfortably loud for some people (hyperacusis), further adding to stress and anxiety. The result is a cycle of symptoms that can be self-reinforcing, leading to progressive worsening of the tinnitus over time. These factors have made tinnitus very difficult to treat in the past.
Although there is no cure for Tinnitus, the good news is there are sound therapy treatment programs that can significantly reduce tinnitus awareness and disturbance for over 90% of suitable patients affected by tinnitus. Palm Coast Hearing Center & Ormond Hearing Center is one of the few clinics that offer evidenced-based tinnitus evaluation and management services. Dr. Alvarez has been certified by the Tinnitus Practitioners Association since 2016 and is a professional member of the America Tinnitus Association. She has successfully treated hundreds of patients with mild to severe tinnitus and helped them achieve a better quality of life. Our comprehensive approach includes sound therapy, behavioral therapy, and stress management strategies. This combination of treatment modalities is the only evidenced-based solution available in the Central Florida area.
Visits are offered either in person at one of our clinics in Palm Coast or Ormond Beach or virtually via your computer or smartphone from the comfort of your home. After your evaluation, your doctor will review a comprehensive treatment plan customized to your needs. Many patients find relief after just a few sessions, however if more comprehensive intervention is necessary, that is also available. Most insurance companies, including Medicare, do not cover tinnitus treatment, however affordable treatment options and financing are available.