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Lost Sounds: Understanding Tinnitus as the “Phantom Limb” of the Ear

What is Tinnitus? Dr Barrett St. George explains.

Lost Sounds: Understanding Tinnitus as the “Phantom Limb” of the Ear

by | Jun 23, 2023 | Patient Resources, Tinnitus

If you’re experiencing a ringing or buzzing sound in your ears, you’re not alone. You may be suffering from tinnitus—a common condition that impacts an estimated 50 million Americans each year. Not all cases of tinnitus are permanent. If you’ve been to a noisy concert or fireworks show and had a temporary ringing in your ears, you’ve likely experienced temporary tinnitus.

But for many people, tinnitus is a permanent condition that impacts their everyday lives. So what causes tinnitus? And is there a cure that can stop the phantom ringing in your ears? Read on for all you need to know.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Have you ever heard stories about the “phantom limb” phenomenon? This refers to the sensation experienced by a majority of amputees. After losing a limb, patients experience sensations, sometimes painful, that feel like they’re coming from the missing limb. And tinnitus is quite similar.

Most of the time, tinnitus is caused by an existing hearing loss at a certain frequency. Our brains are able to hear different frequencies and pitches. But if you’re experiencing a hearing loss at one of those frequencies, your brain isn’t stimulated in that frequency region. To compensate for the lack of sound, your brain creates its own internal noise—resulting in the ringing, buzzing, or humming sounds that are associated with tinnitus.

It’s possible that you may be able to hear some sounds just fine while struggling to hear other sounds at different frequencies. This is because the neurons in your brain are frequency specific. And your brain doesn’t simply stop working when it’s unable to pick up a sound. Instead, the brain’s neurons make their own noise.

Can Tinnitus Be Cured?

The temporary tinnitus that you may experience after being exposed to loud noises like concerts or sporting events usually goes away within a few hours. However, permanent tinnitus tends to get worse over time if it’s not treated.

While there is no permanent cure for tinnitus, audiologists and researchers have found proven therapeutic techniques that are able to help provide relief for the symptoms of tinnitus. Some of the techniques that we use at Hearing & Balance Doctors include:

Hearing aids

When your ongoing tinnitus is accompanied by a hearing loss—and most of the time it is—hearing aids can help to make tinnitus symptoms more manageable. Hearing aids offer dual benefits, as they’re able to help with your hearing loss and mask the sounds of tinnitus. When hearing loss is treated, the intensity of tinnitus often decreases.

Sound masking

Sound-masking technology helps to decrease awareness of tinnitus. Many digital hearing aids are equipped with sound-masking technology. These devices emit a “white noise” that’s designed to distract your brain from the internal tinnitus sounds.

Tinnitus-retraining therapy (TRT)

TRT is a more holistic approach to treating the symptoms of tinnitus. It involves training your brain to perceive the sounds of tinnitus in a different way. This is sometimes referred to as habituation therapy, and it addresses your mental health as well. TRT includes coping tools to help you deal with the emotional side effects of tinnitus, like anger and depression.

Tinnitus Treatment at Hearing & Balance Doctors

Tinnitus can have a negative impact on your quality of life. It can keep you awake at night and can cause you to want to isolate yourself socially, leading to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Here at Hearing & Balance Doctors, our team offers a complete tinnitus treatment program that’s designed to help you reduce the effect of tinnitus symptoms on your lifestyle.

During your tinnitus assessment, your tinnitus specialist will spend some time getting to know you and your medical history. They’ll ask you some questions about how your condition is affecting your daily life and will work to identify the type and severity of your tinnitus. They’ll also perform a comprehensive hearing assessment to evaluate whether your tinnitus is caused by a hearing loss. Sometimes, additional testing by an ENT may be necessary to rule out other medical conditions.

After your tinnitus assessment, your tinnitus specialist will spend some time discussing your treatment options with you. We never approach tinnitus treatment with a one-size-fits-all mentality—your tinnitus is unique, and your treatment should be, too.

Schedule a Tinnitus Assessment in Nevada and Utah

If you or a loved one is experiencing tinnitus symptoms, the first step is coming in for a tinnitus assessment. Do not delay—especially if your symptoms come on suddenly. 

Thousands of local patients trust our Doctors of Audiology with their hearing health because we take a unique, methodical approach to treatment. We know that better hearing doesn’t happen overnight, and we’re here for you at each step of your journey to hearing a life you love.

Schedule your tinnitus assessment here or request a callback.

Tinnitus Assessment

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Dr. Barrett St. George, Ph.D.

Barrett received his bachelor’s degree in Communication Disorders and Sciences from UCONN, and his research doctorate (Ph.D.) in Hearing Science from the University of Arizona. His research focused on the anatomy and physiology of the central auditory nervous system, especially as it pertains to sound localization. His most recent research has shown promise for clinical assessment of functional listening skills involved in sound localization. In addition to his research, Barrett has enjoyed teaching several courses (both undergraduate and graduate-level) at the University of Arizona within the department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. Barrett has enthusiastically joined Hearing & Balance Doctors where he will be finishing up the remainder of his clinical hours to complete his clinical doctorate of audiology (Au.D.). He is grateful to have this opportunity to join such a professional, supportive, and kind-hearted team. Barrett St. George grew up in Connecticut, where he met his wife, Amanda. They have two children, Ellie, and Broderick (“Brody”). In their spare time, the St. George’s enjoy being outdoors and living an active and healthy lifestyle. Barrett also loves going for motorcycle rides, exploring new places, and meeting new people.

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