Tinnitus (from the Latin tinnire, ‘to ring, tinkle’–like a bell) is the sense of a sound in the ear(s) that does not come from an external source. It can be high- or low-pitched, constantly present or it may come and go. The various sounds have been described as:
Tinnitus is extremely common, affecting from 15 to 20 percent of the population. That’s approximately 48 million Americans. While there are numerous causes of tinnitus, including a number of health problems, the condition itself is not a sign of something serious. However, it is commonly associated with hearing loss. It is also strongly associated with severe emotional and psychological impact for those who suffer from it, such as anxiety and depression.
Relationship between hearing loss and tinnitus
While tinnitus can result from a variety of health problems, there is a proven link between hearing loss or impairment and tinnitus. In this regard, it helps to understand the mechanism of hearing and the types of hearing loss.
A common example of the tinnitus connection to hearing is exposure to loud noises, which can result in damage to the inner ear (the cochlea). This damage can cause both temporary and permanent hearing loss, and subsequently, tinnitus. Tinnitus is familiar to people who often experience ringing in the ears after loud concerts. Age-related hearing loss, a degenerative condition (called presbycusis), is also linked to tinnitus and represents a large number of those who experience its phantom noises.
While inner ear damage and hearing loss is a common cause of tinnitus, in some situations the condition can also be caused by other factors. These include reactions to certain medications toxic to the ear, cardiovascular disease, jaw disorders (TMJ—temporomandibular disorder), allergies, stress and diet.
A variety of tests are used by hearing experts to determine the presence and extent of hearing loss.
Prevention of tinnitus
Tinnitus is not a disease or condition. Rather, it is a symptom of some underlying cause. While tinnitus indicates the need for evaluation by a medical professional to determine that cause, there are steps you can take to prevent or lessen the symptoms.
Avoid exposure to loud or excessive noise. Use noise protection (earplugs or special headphones) when you cannot avoid loud or repetitive noises, such as listening to loud music or working in loud environments.
Use masking noise. Quiet usually exacerbates tinnitus. Use a ticking clock, fan, white noise machine or other competing sound to dull the awareness of the tinnitus noises.
Adopt healthy lifestyle measures. Control blood pressure; avoid caffeine and excess salt; exercise; get plenty of sleep; drink alcohol in moderation and avoid stress.
Reduce anxiety. Worry exacerbates tinnitus. Try not to overly focus or concentrate on the problem. Practice relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing and meditation.
Get immediate help. At the first sign of tinnitus, or when it worsens, go to a hearing specialist.The sooner you receive a diagnosis and treatment plan, the better your chances of alleviating the problem.
Treatment of tinnitus
After the determination of the underlying cause of tinnitus, there are a variety of treatments which may be undertaken or prescribed.
Tinnitus may be occurring due to some blockage of that delicate inner ear, such as excessive earwax or loose hair. These can be easily removed. Other inner ear damage or disorders such as TMJ can also be addressed by a hearing specialist.
Other causes can be alleviated, such as adverse impact of medications or lifestyle issues that may be contributing to tinnitus.
Other treatments that may be indicated include:
Currently, there is no FDA-approved medication for tinnitus. However, while drugs cannot cure it, there are certain medications that may relieve some of its symptoms.
In addition to medication to treat underlying causes, in cases in which the emotional and psychological impact is troubling, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs may be helpful.
Hearing loss, whatever the cause, is a major contributing factor to tinnitus. In fact, 80 percent of those with tinnitus also have hearing loss.
Hearing aids serve to increase the surrounding sounds and additionally distract the brain from registering the tinnitus sounds. Thus, those who suffer from tinnitus often find that hearing aids are helpful.
Despite the many benefits of hearing aids, of the 28.8 million Americans who could benefit from their use (ages 20 to 69), less than 16 percent have ever used them.
Yet, in at least one major survey of hearing health professionals, approximately 60 percent of tinnitus patients experienced at least some relief with hearing aids, and about 22 percent of patients found significant relief.
Come to our hearing specialists
At Sonora Hearing Care, we are widely experienced in treating tinnitus and hearing loss. Our experts are the leaders in the treatment, diagnosis and continued care of hearing difficulties.To schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, contact us today.