What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is something that almost 15 million Americans struggle with, so it is incredibly common and something that must be acted upon in order to protect your hearing health for the future. Tinnitus is characterized by a persistent and uncomfortable noise often sounding like ringing, buzzing, whooshing, throbbing, or whistling. The sounds are so convincing that it is hard to believe they are not really there; they may be constant or intermittent and can range from mild to severe. You may hear these sounds in one or both ears.
There are two different types of tinnitus: Subjective and Objective.
Subjective Tinnitus – This type of tinnitus is the most common and is best described as a noise only you can hear. It occurs due to problems in the outer, middle, or inner ear or can also be caused by problems with the auditory pathway – the part of the brain that interprets nerve signals as sound.
Objective Tinnitus – If your doctor can hear the noises during your examination, then it’s likely to be Objective Tinnitus. It is extremely rare and usually caused by a problem with a blood vessel, an issue with the middle ear bone, or problems with muscle contractions. Objective tinnitus takes longer to treat than subjective and is classed as the more severe of the two
The good news is that tinnitus is very rarely an indication of a larger problem and for the majority of people, it comes and goes with relatively minor discomfort.
In some cases, it can be a continuous problem that significantly impacts everyday life. It is so important to check in with your audiologist if the condition bothers you as they can offer support and advice.
What Causes Tinnitus?
The people most likely to suffer with tinnitus are those frequently exposed to loud sounds for a prolonged period of time. However, there are other circumstances that can lead to the development of the condition such as drug use, head trauma, stress, a neurological disease, and even a large build-up of ear wax.
Higher incidences of tinnitus are reported in people who also have conditions such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, anxiety or depression, and thyroid disorders. Also taking certain medications can put you at risk of suffering with tinnitus as a side effect, for example, some antibiotics, aspirin, and some chemotherapy medicines.
How Can It Be Treated?
At the moment, there is no “cure” for tinnitus, but there are ways to treat the symptoms in order to give the person suffering a better quality of life. The majority of methods are actually things the sufferer can do in order to mask the sounds they are hearing. Many report adding in additional sounds can be very helpful, for example, having a fan on or the radio. There is an electronic instrument called a tinnitus masker that many sufferers say has helped them. It is built into a hearing aid case and generates a noise different to the one that is in the patient’s head.
Relaxation techniques have also proven extremely helpful in many cases. Biofeedback training, where the patient learns to focus on relaxing various parts of the body and different muscles, has helped many people to feel that they can cope better living with tinnitus. Meditation and yoga are other useful techniques that have been reported to help. With stress and anxiety being named causes of tinnitus, it is important to do what you can in order to reduce these feelings, which we appreciate is very often easier said than done. More information can be found on the American Tinnitus Associations website.
There are some medications available to help ease tinnitus symptoms. However, they do not benefit all patients. What works for one may not work for another and sadly at the moment there are no medications that will remove tinnitus completely. There are many medications that can actually cause tinnitus. Therefore, if you are on medication it is worth checking with your doctor to see if tinnitus is a side effect of that particular drug because very often, once it is discontinued the tinnitus will stop.
We are pleased to report that tinnitus will not cause you to go deaf. In reality, most patients report that their tinnitus does actually improve over time. If you are at all concerned, please do book in to see one of our audiologists who will be more than happy to help you.