Tinnitus Test: Do I Have Tinnitus?

Author: Dr. Carrie Meyer

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Hearing Solutions

Dr. Carrie Meyer

Doctor of Audiology

I have been a clinical audiologist for over 30 years. I have worked with patients from newborn to over 100 years of age. I have worked in conjunction with ENT surgeons the last 10 years, assessing candidacy for bone anchored hearing aids.

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How do I know if I have tinnitus? - With a hearing examination you can begin to better understand your tinnitus. Read more about tinnitus assessment

Tinnitus is not a disease, it is a subjective phenomenon, most commonly defined as the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. Tinnitus affects about 15 to 20 percent of adults and is most commonly due to hearing loss or other underlying health conditions. While many people aren’t bothered by tinnitus, others experience negative responses including depression, anxiety, irritability, and difficulty sleeping. Tinnitus can affect all aspects of life: work, social and family relationships. Because tinnitus has such enormous impact, it is unsurprising those affected by tinnitus seek evaluation and treatment. But this presents a unique challenge since there is no test for tinnitus. The best test for tinnitus is a comprehensive hearing evaluation because tinnitus begins in the ear.

When you schedule your appointment with a hearing healthcare professional, be sure to let them know you are experiencing tinnitus. This will allow your provider to schedule extra time for tinnitus assessment and counseling.  An excellent resource to find a hearing health care provider who specializes in tinnitus is the America Tinnitus Association website: https://www.ata.org/ or the Tinnitus Practitioners Association: https://tinnituspractitioners.org/.  

An assessment for tinnitus will begin with an examination of your ears and hearing. This testing will determine if you have a hearing loss, the type of hearing loss you may have, and the cause of this hearing loss. This testing will also help your hearing care provider create a treatment program which may include hearing aids to address the underlying hearing loss and improve your hearing. 

For many people, a hearing evaluation and in-depth discussion of hearing loss and hearing aids provides the reassurance and information they need to move forward.  For others, a more detailed evaluation of their tinnitus is necessary.  Even though tinnitus has a physiologic origin – it occurs with irritation or injury to the ear – it is a subjective disorder, it cannot be seen or heard by others. The “invisible” nature of tinnitus makes coping even more difficult. Family members and friends may struggle to understand the impact of tinnitus when the tinnitus sufferer appears to be in good health. 

A tinnitus assessment may include the following tests: 

Tinnitus Questionnaire: personalized questionnaires evaluate the impact of tinnitus, anxiety, and depression.

Pitch Matching: determines at what frequency your tinnitus occurs

Loudness Matching: assesses how loud you perceive your tinnitus to be

Tinnitus Minimum Masking Level: establishes the quietest level your tinnitus can be covered by an    alternate sound

Residual Inhibition: used to ascertain if masking will be helpful


Once these tests have been completed, your hearing care provider will review all test results with you and together you will work to create a treatment program. Tinnitus treatment is multi-faceted and will focus on both hearing and whole person health. The best programs include cognitive behavioral therapy to address the anxiety and depression that can accompany tinnitus and incorporate meditation and other relaxation therapies to improve coping skills. Hearing aids can be programmed with tinnitus sound therapy, quiet neutral sounds like white noise or wind that can be used to reduce the perception of tinnitus and refocus attention. Finally, improving overall health with exercise and good nutrition will support tinnitus treatment and enhance well-being.

The most challenging aspect of tinnitus treatment is acceptance. A hearing evaluation and tinnitus assessment will help the tinnitus sufferer and their family better understand the physiologic and emotional components of tinnitus. Tinnitus is subjective and invisible making it especially difficult for those not experiencing tinnitus to understand. But for the person with tinnitus, the ability to accept tinnitus – to understand that it originates in the ear and brain, that it is not an imagined or psychological problem and to know that there are concrete treatment options available – is the biggest and most important factor in learning to manage and live with tinnitus. This ability to accept tinnitus and learn to shift mental attention away from tinnitus has been studied recently. Several scientific studies have shown that mindfulness based cognitive behavioral therapy was associated with significant improvement in the perception of tinnitus.  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mindfulness-in-frantic-world/201807/can-mindfulness-help-relieve-tinnitus  Improvements were seen for tinnitus-related distress in 50% and in psychological distress in 41.2% of patients. Changes in mindfulness and tinnitus acceptance explained these improvements in tinnitus-related and psychological distress after 8 weeks of therapy. 

There is no specific test for tinnitus and there is no cure for tinnitus. But working with your hearing health care provider to evaluate your hearing and tinnitus and to create a tinnitus treatment program to help you manage your tinnitus will allow you to take control of your tinnitus, lessen the negative impact of tinnitus, and improve your relationships and quality of life.  

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