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Tinnitus Explained and How Sounds Can Help

by BetterSleep
Mar 11 • 4 min read

Tinnitus is a disruptive condition that causes ringing and other sounds in your ears. Of course, this makes sleeping more difficult, but there are treatments and therapies that can help. Using external sounds to combat the ringing in your ears is one strategy that just might help you get relief and sleep better.

What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a persistent sound, or really a perception of sound, in your ears. Ringing is a typical symptom, but you may also hear buzzing, hissing, clicking, or a roaring sound like ocean waves. The pitch varies, so you may experience high pitched whining sounds or deeper, low sound.

The vast majority of cases of tinnitus are subjective, which means that only you can hear the sounds. Only rarely is tinnitus objective, meaning your doctor can hear a sound when examining your ear. The sound, in this case, is caused by issues with blood vessels, bones, or muscles inside the ear.

The sounds of tinnitus can be annoying, to say the least. You may have it in one or both ears, and it may be mild and quiet or loud and extremely disruptive. Most commonly the condition is triggered by age-related hearing loss, repeated exposure to loud noises, or ear wax blockages. Sometimes a medication can cause tinnitus by damaging auditory nerves.

How Tinnitus Impacts Sleep

It’s not surprising that tinnitus disrupts sleep. The sounds you hear can make it difficult to relax enough to fall asleep. Tinnitus is associated with difficulty falling asleep, maintaining sleep, as well as perceived overall poor quality of sleep. One study found that in a group of patients with tinnitus, half experienced poor quality sleep. The rate is even higher in patients with more intense tinnitus.

Treating Tinnitus

If tinnitus is bothering you to the point that your sleep is suffering, you should see your doctor. If an underlying cause can be found and treated, you’ll get some relief. Even if a cause, like age-related hearing loss, can’t be found or treated, there are therapies that will help you cope. Medications, cognitive behavioral therapy, and a therapy called tinnitus retraining are used to manage this condition.

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Using Sound to Combat Tinnitus and Get a Better Night’s sleep

If you have tinnitus, all you really want is to eliminate those unwanted sounds. Adding more sound may seem counterintuitive, but it can help. Sound therapies are based on four different mechanisms that relieve tinnitus:

  • External sounds can mask the sounds caused by tinnitus.
  • External sounds can distract you from the tinnitus sounds.
  • Sound therapy may help to habituate you to hearing certain frequencies of sound.
  • Neuromodulation uses sounds to turn down the activity of nerves.

Your doctor or audiologist can help you try different devices and therapies to use sounds to combat tinnitus. But you may also want to try some tools at night for better sleep. The wide range of sounds available on BetterSleep provides options from white noise to city sounds and nature. Try some of these to find out which sounds and volumes relax your tinnitus and help you get to sleep.

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