Sudden Onset Tinnitus

When I watched the Boston bombings footage on television, I couldn’t help thinking about all the people who may have had tinnitus or ear noises start after the blast. The concussive force of the bombs was obvious, even knocking one racer off his feet. Tinnitus and muffled hearing is really common after explosions. But the media doesn’t usually include tinnitus when it reports on injuries or it’s dismissed as a minor symptom.

Sudden onset tinnitus is usually temporary. Often the tinnitus will go away within seconds to minutes. But it is also common for the tinnitus to take longer to settle.

Research suggests the difference may depend on how much attention the person pays to the new sound.  What you focus on increases. That is especially true for tinnitus. Ignoring it or pushing it to the back of the mind is the best approach. Listening to it, comparing how it sounds from day to day, or constantly thinking about the sound can make the tinnitus last longer.

Some research suggests that listening to low comfortable sound after a high noise exposure is good therapy for the ears. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of sound (e.g. music, TV, environmental sound, fan, etc.). As long as the person doesn’t start to avoid listening to regular everyday sounds which can also make tinnitus more long lasting. Avoid silence!

There are definitely strategies that can help people with sudden onset tinnitus – especially people who find it hard to stop focusing on their tinnitus. See a doctor/ear specialist (ENT). A visit to an audiologist is recommended. Audiologists should have information about tinnitus and tinnitus management including various coping ideas. For more severe cases, sometimes group or one-to-one therapy is needed. Tinnitus associations also have good information and resources (e.g. American Tinnitus Association, British Tinnitus Association, European Tinnitus Associations, etc.).

Just like a bruise eventually heals with time, sudden onset tinnitus after a blast or explosion usually heals with time too. If the tinnitus doesn’t settle, there are definitely options available to help people cope.

Norena, A.J. & Eggermont, J.J. (2005). Enriched acoustic environment after noise trauma reduces hearing loss and prevents cortical map reorganization. Journal of Neuroscience, 19, 25(3), 699-705.

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