The Phantom Sound

Remember your first rock concert? Your first time sitting in the cauldron at a football match? Pretty loud experiences, right? As a matter of fact, you may have walked back out to the parking lot afterward with something that sounded like tones from the concert or roars from the game still ringing in your ears.

That experience is something hearing health professionals call “tinnitus” (from the Latin tinnire, which means to ring or tinkle). It’s a situation in which someone hears a sound when there is nothing in the vicinity that is making that sound. The concert and football scenarios mentioned above are examples of temporary tinnitus that goes away eventually. But there are forms of tinnitus that people have to live with every day‑some degree of buzzing, hissing or roaring that is always there.

How tinnitus happens

Some 15% of people suffer from tinnitus, but it isn’t a medical condition, in and of itself. Tinnitus is a signal that something else is going on. The onset of sensorineural hearing loss is one potential cause, as hair cells deep in the inner ear begin to die off; direct damage to hair cells due to physical trauma is another. Extended exposure to exceptionally loud noises in environments such as factories also poses dangers to the inner ear. In addition, tinnitus has also been linked to personal stress.

Whatever the trigger is for a phantom tinnitus sound, the actual source of that sound is the brain. Dying or damaged hair cells are basically sending the brain bad information about sound, causing it to falsely register the presence of sound.

What can be done about it

In cases of chronic tinnitus, noise generating devices (sometimes the technology is built right into a hearing aid) are used to distract the sufferer by literally masking the tinnitus sound. There are also behavioral therapies designed to reduce or eliminate tinnitus by dealing with stress in the tinnitus sufferer’s life. If you’re experiencing tinnitus, please call us for an appointment. We’ll be happy to help you determine what’s going on.

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