Tinnitus is the perception of a ringing, roaring, hissing, whistling, whooshing or buzzing sound with no external sound source. Symptoms can affect one ear or both, and can range from a mild nuisance to debilitating. Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, unless the underlying condition can be identified and treated.
Tinnitus is defined by The American Tinnitus Association as the condition in which a person hears sounds that most often no one else can hear. It is a condition that seems to be related to age (most cases appear after the age of 50), and is much more common in men than in women. An estimated 50 million Americans have tinnitus; for some reason more of them in the South than other parts of the country. Tinnitus can be of different types, and those who experience it may hear very different types of sounds. Most people with the condition hear sounds that no one else can hear; this type is referred to as Subjective tinnitus. Incredibly, there are circumstances in which a doctor or audiologist can detect these sounds upon examination, this is called Objective tinnitus. Other less common types of tinnitus include 1) hearing low-frequency sounds, often mistaken for being actual sounds in the environment, 2) pulsatile tinnitus, in which the person hears rhythmic beats in time with their pulse, and 3) musical hallucinations, or hearing music that is not really present.
Tinnitus is sadly a widespread problem, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans over 50. Tinnitus sufferers hear continuous sounds in their heads that others can’t hear such as clicking, buzzing, ringing, humming or whistling. Tinnitus is often known by its slang name – ringing-in-the-ears. For some tinnitus sufferers, this constant onslaught of noise is more of a distraction than an illness, but for many others it is a cause of extreme distress, bringing about symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders. Tinnitus can be treated technologically, using electronic hearing aids that filter out or suppress the ringing or buzzing sounds, but another form of counseling known as Tinnitus Retraining Therapy approaches the condition from a different angle. The concept behind TRT is to retrain the brain to reduce sensitivity to the tinnitus noises. The idea is to lower the perceptions of the sounds and reduce negative reactions to the sounds.
Sound is an essential part of our lives, but like most things, its effect on us depends on both the quality of the sounds we hear, and the quantity of them. Listening to music can be soothing and enjoyable, but it can also be annoying and aggravating if the volume is excessive. All of us have a different taste in music, so the quality of a musical work is always subjective. However, the quantity as measured by decibel level and duration is very objective and readily measured. Extended exposure to music in excess of certain decibel levels damages the hair cells of the inner ear leading to noise-induced hearing loss. As a result of coming in contact with these loud sounds, an estimated 1 in 5 Americans have developed some degree of tinnitus (continuously hearing a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears). Even muted sounds under 10 decibels can cause stress and anxiety if you’re exposed to them long enough; have you ever been kept awake at night by the sound of a dripping faucet or ticking clock?
Many adults experience the constant noises caused by tinnitus, however this condition isn’t restricted by age. Kids are equally at risk for this potentially debilitating disorder. While adults can usually determine that the sounds they are hearing are abnormal, many children assume the noise is a regular part of life. If your child shows signs of tinnitus it is important to look into it to rule out any underlying condition. There are many different conditions that can cause a person of any age to experience tinnitus. Among the many potential causes are circulatory problems, hearing loss from damaging noise, a build-up of wax in the ear canal, a misalignment in the jaw joints, and trauma to the neck and head. Slow-growing tumors on nerves in the face and ears can also cause tinnitus. Your family pediatrician can help rule out any specific ear problems. If there are not any obvious issues, you will likely be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or audiologist for further investigation.
Though it’s true that there is at this time no scientifically-verified method to cure tinnitus, researchers are hard at work to identify one. In the meantime, a range of tinnitus therapy options exist that can grant considerable relief. Think about it this way. When you have a headache, you take Tylenol despite the fact that it doesn’t “cure” your headache. Pain relievers merely make the pain disappear into the background to ensure that it doesn’t impact your day. In the same way, tinnitus therapy can help lower the degree of symptoms so that your tinnitus has minimal influence on your daily routine.
In the United States, tinnitus (ringing in the ears) affects 20 percent of the total population, and hearing loss occurs in 90 percent of the cases. With such a substantial relationship between hearing loss and tinnitus, you would think that people would be more inclined to seek treatment for one or both ailments. But believe it or not we find the exact opposite. Among those who bypass treatment for hearing loss, 39 percent (9 million people) do so because they feel that nothing can be done about their tinnitus. That’s 9 million people that are suffering unnecessarily when a treatment exists that could both improve hearing and relieve tinnitus concurrently. That treatment is the professional fitting of hearing aids.
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) is regrettably very challenging to diagnose and treat. While scientists are hard at work to discover a cure, a great deal about the causes and characteristics of tinnitus remain little-known. If you have tinnitus, it’s critical to first seek professional help. First, tinnitus is occasionally a manifestation of an underlying condition that requires medical assistance. In these cases tinnitus can be cured by addressing the underlying problem.
Tinnitus can be an unbelievably frustrating condition for a large amount of reasons. First and foremost, tinnitus is an entirely subjective condition. What this means, is you can’t exactly show anybody what the constant ringing of tinnitus sounds like, how loud the ringing may be, or how much of a bother tinnitus can get when exposed to day in and day out. Second, there isn’t any one, true objective way to measure the severity of tinnitus. You can’t go into your nearest doctor’s office, get some blood drawn, have tests ran, and get diagnosed with the condition.
Do you hear that ringing in your ears and wonder where it comes from? You’re not alone. It is estimated by the Hearing Health Foundation that 20 percent of Americans hear that same ringing sound, or ones similar to it, each day. Only around 16 percent of those with tinnitus will discuss the problem with a physician even though it disrupts their lives. Of that 20 percent, 90 percent of them also live with hearing loss even if they realize it. It is a growing concern throughout the country, but what does all the noise mean?