You might be reading this article about tinnitus because a.) you are hearing some ringing or buzzing in your ears or b.) your family member might be experiencing the same. Let us help you understand tinnitus more and learn how to manage it.
First things first - what is tinnitus? It is a condition where a person may hear ringing, buzzing, thumping, hissing or any other similar sounds that doesn’t stem from an outside source.
The most COMMON cause of tinnitus is hearing loss BUT there are also other medications and health conditions that may trigger tinnitus.In most cases, tinnitus is not serious, BUT if it comes on SUDDENLY and TOO LOUD for comfort, medical attention should be sought.
In layman's terms, tinnitus is referred to as phantom noise, mainly because this condition is hearing some sort of sounds that aren't actually there. There are two types of tinnitus - SUBJECTIVE AND OBJECTIVE.
Subjective tinnitus is when the person with the condition is the only one hearing the sound. This is commonly caused by ear problems.
Meanwhile, objective tinnitus can be actually heard or measured by an audiologist or hearing specialist. This is a RARE type of tinnitus and may be triggered by problems in the middle ear, heart, or blood vessels.
According to the U.S Center for Disease Control, more than 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus. Approximately 2 million suffer from extreme and debilitating tinnitus while 20 million have chronic tinnitus.
Sounds produced by tinnitus may vary in pitch from a low hum to a high squeal and a person suffering from this condition may hear it in either one or both ears. There are instances when tinnitus can be heard SO LOUD to the point that it can already affect one’s ability to function normally.
Additionally, tinnitus may either be constant or fleeting. Knowing the degree and type of tinnitus is essential so that you and your audiologist can come up with the most effective and convenient options.
Tinnitus is not primarily considered as a medical emergency but we would recommend seeking medical attention once you experience a sign or feel any discomfort.
By all means, DO NOT allow tinnitus to drag on because it might get worse. Emotional stress, depression, anxiety and other stress-related physiological conditions might be triggered if tinnitus remains untreated.
Symptoms of tinnitus may also be experienced by someone who has recently experienced a cold or an upper respiratory infection. This may be somewhat normal but, if the tinnitus DOES NOT improve within the week, it would be best to have your ears checked.You should also see a specialist if dizziness, hearing loss or nausea accompanies the tinnitus.
Audiologists carry out specialized tests to document tinnitus. Aside from these tests, an audiologist will also ask about your health history, lifestyle, medication, etc.
Inner ear hair cell damage - this is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. This usually happens when the tiny and delicate hairs of the inner ear become damaged. The inner ear hair cells are responsible for carrying sound signals to the brain. Once they are damaged, bent or broken, they can leak random electrical impulses to the brain, hence, causing tinnitus.
Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis - this is another common cause of tinnitus. As one ages, hearing deteriorates.
Blood Vessel Disorders - if the tinnitus is observed as pulsating, one might have a blood vessel disorder. This condition can be attributed to plaque build up in the arteries, heart disease, untreated high blood pressure, irregular blood flow in the carotid artery, among others. Most of the time, this kind of tinnitus will only manifest in one ear.
If tinnitus feels like a heartbeat, it may be caused by damage in the blood vessels. If you are experiencing this kind of tinnitus, you need to seek medical attention right away to rule out possible cardiac issues.
Sensorineural - tinnitus may also be tagged as sensorineural, which means that it may stem from a cochlear level. Take note though that tinnitus may also originate in other places. The human body produces somatic sounds that we don’t really notice because we are inclined to hear external sounds. In the event that something blocks normal hearing, somatic sounds can be brought to attention.
A clear example of this is when earwax blocks the outer ear. Due to the blockage, a person may notice more somatic sounds than usual. This is why we couldn’t stress any further how important it is to see a doctor if you are experiencing tinnitus.
Noise exposure is the highest risk factor of tinnitus. This is actually PREVENTABLE so that’s a “yey” for us. To lower your risk of getting tinnitus caused by noise exposure, make sure to wear hearing protection in situations when loud noise is present (shooting ranges, concerts, industrial plants, etc).
Age also increases a person’s risk for tinnitus.
Certain medications such as antibiotics, cancer medications and water pills may induce or trigger tinnitus.
Gender also plays a role in tinnitus. Men are reportedly more likely to have tinnitus than women. This is attributed to men’s lifestyle - occupation and noise exposure.
One of the best ways to prevent tinnitus is by getting regular checkups and annual blood work. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is also key.
If you have existing health conditions, make sure to mention your tinnitus symptoms to your doctor so it can be properly addressed.
Use hearing protection whenever you are exposed to loud noises.
Moderate your volume. Listening to your favorite jams while wearing headphones may be thrilling and lets you forget your problems for a while BUT it may open doors to new problems if your hearing gets damaged. Mind your volume and make sure that you are not blasting your ears with harmful decibels.
Tinnitus can make a big impact on one’s functioning abilities.It is worth noting though, that just like any other medical condition, tinnitus may have a unique impact on each individual. However, below are some common experiences of individuals with tinnitus that MAY lead to COMPLICATIONS.
Tinnitus can bring fatigue with it, and we don’t just mean physical fatigue. Tinnitus may also bring about emotion and mental fatigue. Imagine if you are trying to drink your morning coffee or work on a very important business presentation, but you keep on hearing a buzzing, thumping or hissing sound. Annoying, right? If this happens regularly, it will really take a toil on your overall health and wellness.
Tinnitus is NOT for the faint of heart. Hearing phantom noises is far from having peace of mind, and this condition may take a toll on the brain as well. The daily hustle and bustle of daily life is already contributory to a person’s stress - add to that tinnitus and you end up with anxiety and irritability.
Some people with tinnitus may find it difficult to sleep. Lack of sleep may cause concentration and memory problems, or worse, depression. This is why we at PA Center for Hearing and Balance always encourage our patients to seek medical help for tinnitus.
Treatment for tinnitus will depend on its type and severity. If hearing loss is manifested together with tinnitus, hearing aids or tinnitus therapy is the best path to choose. Keep in mind though, that hearing aids will not magically make tinnitus disappear, BUT it will certainly help a lot.
Learning to live with tinnitus is a process, and it needs the right mindset and conditioning. Support from family, friends and colleagues also play a big role in the success of tinnitus treatment. Of course, the expertise of an audiologist will also be a big determinant of tinnitus treatment. If you are looking for experts in dealing with tinnitus, our audiologists at PA Center for Hearing and Balance can help you.
Other tinnitus treatments include biofeedback, meditation, sound/noise conditioning, tinnitus programs, etc. Audiologists will lay out all the options and discuss with you on what’s the most comfortable treatment. Make sure to be as detailed as possible when your health history is being taken, including the medications (past and present) and past or existing health conditions.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can also help with your tinnitus. Follow your doctor’s orders based on the diagnosis and try to avoid noted tinnitus triggers.
Just like any other medical condition, no single approach works for all. Your medical practitioner may decide to combine different techniques or a combination of techniques to find out what works best.
With age-related tinnitus PLUS hearing loss, hearing aids can make tinnitus less noticeable by highlighting external sounds.
Take note that as of writing, there is no FDA-approved drug for tinnitus. While some natural alternatives for tinnitus are getting more popular - from gingko biloba to acupuncture, medical experts stand by their findings that there is still no drug, herb, or supplement to be more effective than a placebo.
If anything, the closest treatment for tinnitus can be found inside an audiologist’s clinic.