What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound that has no external source. It is most commonly described as a ringing sound, but it can manifest itself in many different ways (hissing, chirping, buzzing, etc.). Tinnitus can be perceived inside the head or in one or both ears. It can come and go, vary in sound, change volume, or remain constant. If you are experiencing tinnitus, you are not alone. It is estimated that 10-25% of the population over the age of 18 experience tinnitus in some form. Although tinnitus is more common in older adults, the prevalence among younger age groups is growing likely due to an increase in recreational noise exposure at damaging levels.
What causes tinnitus?
In most cases, tinnitus is only heard by the individual experiencing it and is often a side effect or symptom of an underlying health condition. According to the American Tinnitus Association (ADA), the most commonly reported causes of tinnitus include:
- Hearing loss
- Noise exposure
- Obstruction of the middle ear (wax impaction, ear infection, etc.)
- Head and neck trauma
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
- Barometric trauma (scuba diving, explosive blasts, etc.)
- Traumatic brain injury
- Ototoxic drugs
- Metabolic disorders
- Vestibular disorders
Should I see a doctor for my tinnitus?
For many patients, tinnitus is nothing serious. If you are experiencing one or more of the following, you should see a physician and audiologist to find out if your tinnitus has an underlying cause that needs medical attention:
- You only hear the tinnitus in one ear
- The sound if affecting your quality of life
- The tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss and/or dizziness
- Your tinnitus sounds like a heartbeat
What are the ways to manage/treat my tinnitus?
In some cases, treating the underlying cause of the tinnitus can help provide relief from the sound. For example, treating TMJ or an ear infection may reduce or eliminate the tinnitus. However, in most cases, the tinnitus has no identifiable cause or is permanent. Your tolerance of tinnitus may vary, but for some, tinnitus is bothersome and has an effect on everyday life. Although there may not be a treatment for tinnitus itself, there are many ways to help you manage and take control of your tinnitus including:
- Masking the tinnitus. Sound generators that play sounds like waterfalls and rain, for example, are a good way to cover up (mask) the sound of the tinnitus. You can play these sounds while in the office or while trying to fall asleep. This allows your brain to focus on the true external noise instead of your tinnitus.
- Using hearing aids. If you have hearing loss, hearing aids may be able to relieve your tinnitus by amplifying soft sounds you were unable to hear without hearing aids. This essentially masks the sound of the tinnitus the same way a noise generator would. There are tinnitus therapy programs built within hearing aids for those with or without hearing loss as well. There are tinnitus therapies available to retrain your brain using fractal (chime-like) tones to decrease your awareness of tinnitus and reduce the overall stress that tinnitus can cause.
- Wearing hearing protection. Loud noise exposure can damage hearing and affect your tinnitus in a negative way. Whenever you are around loud noise (concerts, power tools, guns, etc.), you should wear hearing protection to protect your ears.
- Seeking additional help. For some, tinnitus can make it hard to concentrate and sleep and can lead to depression and anxiety. A psychologist or psychiatrist can be useful when the tinnitus is extremely troublesome.
- Changing lifestyle as needed. Exercising daily, avoiding excess caffeine and alcohol, getting enough sleep and monitoring/controlling blood pressure are all additional ways to help lessen the severity of tinnitus.
If you or a family member are experiencing tinnitus call Queen City Ear Nose and Throat at (704) 703-1080 or book an appointment online today.