Tinnitus, also referred to as “ringing of the ears”, is hearing sound in one or both ears when no external sound is present. This noise is often described as a ringing, clicking, buzzing, or hissing sound that can be short or long-lasting. You have likely experienced a version of tinnitus after leaving a concert or other loud space and your hearing is temporarily impacted as sound is muffled by a buzzing noise in your ears. Though in this case, it is short-lived, tinnitus can also be experienced chronically.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 50 million people experience some degree of tinnitus and that for 20 million, it is chronic. Tinnitus is not a medical condition itself but is an underlying symptom of a health issue. Several health conditions can cause tinnitus which can be challenging to diagnose. Though there are no cures, there are effective ways tinnitus can be managed.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There is a broad range of conditions that share tinnitus as a symptom. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that sound 200 health conditions can trigger tinnitus. Among the most common causes are:
- Hearing Loss. Impaired hearing is the most common cause of tinnitus. Affecting over 48 million people, hearing loss reduces the capacity to detect and process speech and sound. This produces several symptoms, including tinnitus, that make engaging in conversations and communication with others difficult. Hearing loss typically occurs when the hair cells in the inner ear are damaged. There are thousands of sensory cells in each ear which are responsible for translating incoming soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals then travel to the brain where they are further analyzed and assigned meaning to. When hair cells are damaged (or lose sensitivity), their capacity to carry out this function is affected – producing permanent hearing loss and tinnitus as a symptom.
- Middle/Inner ear obstructions. This can include excessive amounts of earwax, dirt, growths, etc. which create physical blockages in the ear. Obstructions can allow bacteria to build up in the ears, leading to infection or irritation. This can also produce tinnitus as a symptom.
- TMJ. the temporomandibular joint disorder is the misalignment or damage of this specific joint which is the link between the lower jaw and the skull. The TMJ shares nerve connections with the middle ear so when the joint’s cartilage is damaged, the auditory system can also be impacted.
- Meniere’s Disease. An inner ear disorder, Meniere’s disease occurs when there is an accumulation of fluid in the cochlea (located in the inner ear). This produces several symptoms including pressure in the ears, dizziness, and tinnitus.
- Head/Neck Injuries. Trauma to the head and/or neck areas can impact the auditory system in a variety of ways. This includes causing hearing loss as well as tinnitus. The most common causes of head injuries are car accidents, falls, sports injuries, etc.
Other causes of tinnitus include specific medical conditions like autoimmune disorders and hyperthyroidism as well as certain medications. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider about any underlying symptoms or side-effects of health conditions as well as medications you may be taking.
Tips to Effectively Manage TInnitus
There are a number of strategies that are used to alleviate tinnitus. Identifying and treating the underlying medical condition that is causing tinnitus is a critical step in effective tinnitus management. A few additional tips include:
- Treat hearing loss. This starts by having your hearing tested by a hearing healthcare provider. Hearing tests are painless and non-invasive, involving a process that measures your hearing ability in both ears. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are electronic devices that detect and process sound. This provides significant support, maximizing hearing capacity and alleviating hearing loss symptoms including tinnitus.
- Reduce stress. Stress is a major trigger of tinnitus. It can be useful to find helpful ways to reduce or process stress. This can include increasing exercise, practicing calming activities like yoga or meditation, spending quality time with loved ones, etc.
- Ambient noise. Creating ambient noise in your environment can help mask tinnitus. You can do this by using a white noise machine, playing calming sounds using an app, having soft music playing in the background, etc.
These strategies can reduce the impact tinnitus can have on daily life. For more resources on effectively managing tinnitus, contact us today!