What is Tinnitus?
Like a mirage, Tinnitus convinces you there’s sound present when it’s not actually there, and it’s often characterized by persistent and uncomfortable noises such as buzzing, whistling, ringing, or hissing.
It may be intermittent, constant or fluctuant, mild or severe, and may vary from a low roaring sensation to a high-pitched type of sound.
Now, as almost 15 million Americans suffer from some form of Tinnitus, it’s a very common hearing problem and one that you need to be aware of and act upon if you want to ensure healthy hearing for years to come.
Read on and find out what you can do to prevent this annoying ailment from affecting you.
How does Tinnitus start?
First and foremost, the most common cause of Tinnitus is prolonged and frequent exposure to loud sounds.
Musicians, construction workers, you name them; the list of professions that expose workers to loud sounds is endless.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Tinnitus can also be caused by stress, head trauma, drug use, compacted ear wax, or a neurologic disease. It may occur with hearing loss, vertigo, or pressure symptoms in the ear.
Tinnitus must always be thought of as a symptom and not a disease, just as a pain in the arm or leg is a symptom and not a disease.
Are there different types of Tinnitus?
Yes. There are two:
- Subjective Tinnitus is the most common type and one only you can hear. It can be caused by ear problems in your outer, middle, or inner ear. It also can be caused by problems with the hearing nerves or the part of your brain that interprets nerve signals as sound (auditory pathways).
- Objective Tinnitus is very rare and is the type your doctor can hear during an examination. Potentially caused by a blood vessel problem, a middle ear bone condition, or muscle contractions, this type of Tinnitus is more severe and takes longer to treat.
Is it serious?
Don’t panic, Tinnitus is rarely a sign of a bigger problem, and for some, it comes and goes with minor discomfort.
However, it can sometimes be continuous and have a significant impact on everyday life. Severe cases can be very distressing, affect concentration, and cause problems such as insomnia.
The large majority of cases get better over time, but a friendly word with your audiologist will help you keep on track if it continues to bother you.
So, what’s the cure?
It’s important to note that, to date, there is no ‘cure’ for Tinnitus per say, however there are many ways in which you can treat it so the symptoms are less disruptive in your life. However, generally, most patients won’t need any medical treatment.
For patients who are greatly bothered by Tinnitus, they may use some masking techniques, such as listening to a fan or radio, which would mask some of their Tinnitus.
In addition, other sound source generators can be obtained and be adjusted to sound like environmental sounds and this is also effective in masking Tinnitus, and is generally more advantageous when you want to go to sleep.
Some people find the Tinnitus masker a welcome relief to the constant noise of the Tinnitus. It’s a small electronic instrument built into a hearing aid case that generates a noise other than the one in the patient’s head!
Other treatments include: Biofeedback training, which consists of exercises in which the patient learns to control the various parts of the body and relax the muscles. When a patient is able to accomplish this type of relaxation, Tinnitus generally subsides. Most patients have expressed that the biofeedback offers them better coping skills.
Where stress and anxiety can be common causes of Tinnitus, it’s advised a patient should try to get as much rest and avoid strenuous activity that puts them into a constant state of fatigue (although, we appreciate this can sometimes be easier said than done!)
There are other medications that have been utilized to suppress Tinnitus.
Some patients benefit with drugs and others do not. Each patient has an individual response to medication, and what may work for one patient may not work for another. There is, however, no drug anywhere that will remove Tinnitus completely and forever. There are some drugs that will also cause Tinnitus. If you have Tinnitus and are on medication, you should discuss the symptom of Tinnitus with your physician. In many instances, once the drug is discontinued, the Tinnitus will no longer be present.
Is there anything that could aggravate the Tinnitus?
Stress and nerve stimulants, such as coffee and smoking, can really aggravate the nerves in the ear and lead to the Tinnitus increasing in intensity.
Is there a silver lining?
We’re happy to say, yes there is!
Tinnitus will not cause you to go deaf and statistically, 50% of patients may express that their Tinnitus with time decreases or is hardly perceptible.
What to do now …
If you’re in any way concerned that you might have Tinnitus, or you’re at risk of getting it, speak with your audiologist right away.
You can search for your local center by clicking here, or better still – come and see us and we’ll happily assist you with a hearing test or consultation.
Scott Marquardt is the owner of Clarity Hearing and a highly skilled audiologist who has been in practice for over 20 years. Dr. Marquardt earned a master’s degree in audiology from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, and a doctorate from A.T. Still University. He is a member of the American Speech Language Hearing Association and a fellow of the American Academy of Audiology. He and the team offer comprehensive hearing healthcare services and specialize in the care of tinnitus, imbalance, and auditory processing disorders.