All About Tinnitus

September 20, 2019
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Almost 50 million Americans have experienced the neurological and sound condition called tinnitus, causing them to hear sounds when none are present at all. Nearly 20 million Americans have chronic tinnitus, with two million cases being extreme and debilitating, according to the American Tinnitus Association. In the United States, it is one of the most widespread health issues around.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the word used to describe the feeling of hearing a noise without any being there. The symptoms may include ringing, whooshing, humming or buzzing in the ear. The sounds could be ongoing or they could come and go. Tinnitus may appear in one ear or both, in the center of the head, or even be difficult to locate.

In general, there are two types of tinnitus:

Subjective Tinnitus: Noise from the head or ear that can only be noticed by the individual. It is usually related to hearing loss. More than 99% of the tinnitus instances recorded are of this type.

Objective Tinnitus: Noise from the head or ear that can be heard by other individuals as well as the individual. The sounds are generated in the circulatory (blood flow) and somatic (musculo-skeletal) systems by inner functions of the body. This type of hearing loss is extremely rare and it accounts for less than 1% of the total cases of tinnitus.

What causes tinnitus?

Although we don’t understand the precise causes to tinnitus, we understand it is neither a disease, but a symptom. A number of health circumstances can be associated with tinnitus, but it is most often linked with hearing loss.

Sensorineural hearing loss is the type most commonly accompanied by tinnitus. There are two types of sensorineural hearing loss: Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis), and Noise-induced hearing loss. The former is a result of natural aging of the ear structures, and the latter comes from a consistent exposure to environmental noise.

It is important to remember that although tinnitus is associated most frequently with hearing loss, about 200 health illnesses can produce symptoms of tinnitus.

Blockages to the ear are another prevalent cause. This may cause stress in the inner ear to develop, which may affect the normal functioning of the ear drum. In addition, objects that make direct contact with the ear drum may also irritate the organ and trigger symptoms of tinnitus. Common blockages include:

  • Excessive ear wax (ceruminosis)

  • Fluid due to complications of an ear infection

  • Excess hair in the ear canal

  • Stubborn dirt or debris

How do I treat tinnitus?

The experience of persistent noise in our ears can be stressful and debilitating to your quality of life. Many of us learn to ignore the symptoms but it can have a destructive effect on day-to-day operations, concentration or sleep for others.

There is no medical procedure than can cure tinnitus, but luckily, there are a range of treatments that can help successfully manage the condition. Many people have had success a combination of the treatments below:

Sound therapy: Sound therapy is a well-established treatment to help people manage their symptoms. Tinnitus sound therapy utilizes a procedure called “habituation” to retrain the interpretation of tinnitus in the brain. Essentially, the brain learns to redefine the unwanted noise as neutral or irrelevant.

Cognitive behavioral therapy: The focus of this therapy is on the emotional response to tinnitus. Properly executed, it is one of the most effective treatments for severe tinnitus. It means transforming the way you believe about tinnitus from adverse feelings to more positive ways of thinking about it. 

Hearing aids: Hearing aids are also a surprising effective treatment. They amplify internal environmental noise which helps to mask the tinnitus sounds in your brain. More auditory stimulation in the brain can help lower the perception of tinnitus, relegating it to the other background noise. Many hearing aids are also equipped with tinnitus masking instruments can further reduce the perception of tinnitus.

How to prevent tinnitus?

Here are some ways in which to reduce the risk of developing tinnitus:

  • Use ear protection when in loud places

  • Listen to music and headphones at a safe volume level

  • Maintain a healthy diet and get regular exercise

Clear Hearing and Audiology

Bear in mind that tinnitus is often an early indicator of hearing loss. The prompt treatment of hearing loss can produce immediate relief. If you have tinnitus, you should come and see us for a hearing test too. Contact us today to set up an appointment!