Tinnitus can be frustrating, annoying, or downright aggravating.
It is that constant or intermittent ringing, buzzing or clicking you hear in one or both of your ears. Tinnitus is also extremely common. It is estimated that about 50 million Americans (or about 15% of the American public) experience some degree of ongoing tinnitus. Tinnitus is also extremely common amongst our returning veterans, being the number one most common disability of former military personnel.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a phantom noise that can be heard only by the person experiencing it. It can sound like a ringing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, or roaring in one or both of the ears. Tinnitus can be high pitched or low pitched, can be constant or intermittent, loud or quiet. Tinnitus can range in severity from slightly annoying to debilitating enough to interfere with one’s activities of daily living.
Tinnitus in and of itself is not actually a condition or an illness. Instead, it is a symptom of another underlying health issue. Researchers and medical professionals are still relatively unsure what actually causes tinnitus and why some people experience it while others don’t, however, we do know that tinnitus can occur when there is an issue anywhere along the auditory system and can be caused by many different factors.
Tinnitus Caused by Hearing Loss
Tinnitus caused by hearing loss is very common, and tinnitus is often a good indication that it is time to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment. Very often, tinnitus is the first symptom people notice when they have begun to experience hearing loss. Researchers are unsure exactly what causes people with hearing loss to experience tinnitus, but many believe it is the brain’s attempt to “make up” for lost noise.
Tinnitus Caused by Other Issues
Just like tinnitus caused by hearing loss, tinnitus caused by other conditions is equally mysterious. Your tinnitus could be temporary or permanent depending on what caused it, so it is important to reach out to a hearing healthcare professional to help you determine what your underlying cause is, and what you can do to manage it.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two main types of tinnitus, objective and subjective.
Subjective tinnitus is by far and away the most common form - accounting for over 99% of tinnitus cases. This type of tinnitus can only be heard by the person experiencing it and is usually connected to neurological or auditory conditions such as hearing loss - but could be the result of other catalysts as well.
Objective tinnitus is the much rarer form - representing less than 1% of cases of tinnitus. With objective tinnitus, the noise can actually be heard by the person experiencing the tinnitus, as well as healthcare professionals during an exam. Most of the time, objective tinnitus is caused by issues with the circulatory system.
Causes of Tinnitus
As mentioned earlier, tinnitus is actually just a symptom of another underlying cause. Some of the most common causes of tinnitus are:
- Noise induced hearing loss
- Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
- Ototoxic medications
- Diseases such as Ménière’s disease
- Ear and sinus infections
- Thyroid abnormalities
As of today, there is no “cure”, however, there are many tinnitus treatment options that have shown great success for many people.
Hearing Aids with Tinnitus Technology
Many of today’s hearing aids come equipped with technology created specifically to help wearers deal with their tinnitus. It has also been found that just the act of treating hearing loss with hearing aids can reduce tinnitus symptoms for some people.
White Noise Machines
For many people, tinnitus is the worst when trying to concentrate on a task or attempting to get to sleep at night. White noise machines can greatly help with this and reduce tinnitus symptoms. These machines are capable of playing sounds that actually mask and alleviate your tinnitus.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy
Cognitive behavior therapy can be an effective tinnitus treatment, especially for those whose tinnitus causes a great deal of stress or anxiety in their life. This type of talk therapy helps people who suffer from tinnitus to better manage the way they react to their symptoms and helps to reduce the stress caused by the phantom ringing or buzzing.
Variations in Medication
It is extremely important that you do not attempt to modify your medication routine without directly discussing it with your healthcare professional, however, using different medications to treat certain ailments may help alleviate and even eliminate your tinnitus.