What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the constant ringing, hissing, whistling, buzzing, humming or shrieking sound in one or both ears that is heard when no external sound is present. Because the function of the auditory nerve is to carry sound, when it is irritated or damaged it can produce irregular head noise – that head noise is Tinnitus. Tinnitus is very common and can be intermittent or constant and can range from mild to severe. It can occur with a hearing loss, vertigo or pressure symptoms in the ear, or it may occur alone.
Tinnitus must always be thought of as a symptom and not a disease, just like a headache or a fever. Although Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, it is often associated with it. For example, if your hearing loss is noise-induced, you could develop more substantial Tinnitus in the future. Between 60 and 90% of Tinnitus patients have some degree of hearing loss.
Causes of Tinnitus
It’s important to note that there isn’t a single recognizable cause for most cases of Tinnitus. Often it is attributed to changes in the brain or abnormal activity in the auditory nerve fibers that are still being researched. Tinnitus is not hereditary, and there are a few different ways one can develop it, such as:
- Impacted ear wax
- Taking ototoxic medications (medicines that damage nerves in the ear)
- A middle ear infection
- Damage to hair cells in the ear’s cochlea
- Habitual exposure to loud noises – This can damage or destroy hair cells (cilia) in the inner ear. Unlike a lizard’s tail, once these are damaged they cannot be regenerated.
- Head and neck trauma
- Jaw misalignment or TMJ
- Cardiovascular disease
- Certain disorders, such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and thoracic outlet syndrome, can have Tinnitus as a symptom. When Tinnitus is a symptom of another disorder, treating the disorder can help alleviate the Tinnitus.
Treatment of Tinnitus
While there is no permanent cure for Tinnitus, there are many ways to manage or reduce it. Your first step is to schedule a consultation with one of our audiologists. From there, we can show you which treatment or therapy will be most effective for your type and level of Tinnitus.
There are a variety of ways to alleviate Tinnitus, such as a Tinnitus masker. This small, electronic instrument is built into a hearing aid and generates a noise which distracts the wearer from hearing the irregular head noise. Other techniques such as listening to a fan or radio can help cover the ringing or buzzing of Tinnitus. There are also sound machines that can assist with insomnia for those with Tinnitus. Hearing aids to help correct your hearing loss can also help alleviate the internal noises of Tinnitus.
There are a few ways one can prevent Tinnitus:
- Limit or avoid exposure to loud noises (power tools, gunshots, industrial machinery, etc.).
- Wear protective earplugs if you have to work around loud noises. Over time, loud noise causes damage to the nerves in your ears. Investing in a quality set of earplugs (not using wadded up tissue!) can save your ears in the future!
- Turn down the tunes. When listening to music through headphones/earbuds, don’t pump the volume up all the way. You should still be able to hear noise from your
- environment even with your headphones on.
- Be good to your heart. Your cardiovascular health can be directly related with whether or not you develop Tinnitus. Nicotine, caffeine and alcohol all restrict your blood
- flow, including the flow to the structures of your ears. So be sure to…
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake
- Maintain a healthy weight
If you have Tinnitus, remember to talk to your physician before you begin a new exercise regimen or wish to change your current medications.