Have you ever had that ringing sensation in your ears and wondered why no one was answering the phone? It’s a condition called tinnitus. According to MedicineNet.com, tinnitus is a ringing, swishing, or other type of noise that seems to originate in the ear or head. In many cases it is not a serious problem, but rather a nuisance that eventually resolves. Rarely, however, tinnitus can represent a serious health condition. It is not a single disease, but a symptom of an underlying condition. Nearly 36 million Americans suffer from this disorder. In almost all cases, only the patient can hear the noise.
According to eMedicineHealth.com, tinnitus is not a disease in itself but rather a reflection of something else that is going on in the hearing system or brain. Probably the most common cause for tinnitus is hearing loss. As we age, or because of trauma to the ear (through noise, drugs, or chemicals), the portion of the ear that allows us to hear, the cochlea, becomes damaged.
o Current theories suggest that because the cochlea is no longer sending the normal signals to the brain, the brain becomes confused and essentially develops its own noise to make up for the lack of normal sound signals. This then is interpreted as a sound, tinnitus.
o This tinnitus can be made worse by anything that makes our hearing worse, such as ear infection or excess wax in the ear.
o Tinnitus caused by ear trauma is usually noticed in both ears, because both ears are usually exposed to the same noises, drugs, and other influences
o Loud noise exposure is a very common cause of tinnitus today, and it often damages hearing as well. Unfortunately, many people are unconcerned about the harmful effects of excessively loud noise from firearms, high intensity music, or other sources.
Ten million Americans have suffered irreversible noise-induced hearing loss, and 30 million more are exposed to dangerous noise levels each day, according to the NIDCD. Other causes of tinnitus include drugs such as aspirin (if overused), aminoglycoside antibiotics (a powerful form of infection-fighting drug), and quinine. Plus, Meniere’s Disease includes dizziness, tinnitus, and fullness in the ear or hearing loss that can last for hours, but then goes away. This disease is actually caused by a problem in the ear itself. The tinnitus is merely a symptom.
A rare cause of subjective tinnitus includes a certain type of brain tumor known as an acoustic neuroma. The tumors grow on the nerve that supplies hearing and can cause tinnitus. This type of tinnitus is usually only noticed in one ear, unlike the more common sort caused by hearing loss usually seen in both ears. Causes of objective tinnitus are usually easier to find, and you can find much more detail about tinnitus, at this website: http://www.emedicinehealth.com/tinnitus/article_em.htm .
According to the American Academy of Otalaryngology, in most cases, there is no specific, tried-and-true treatment for ear and head noise. If an otolaryngologist finds a specific cause for your tinnitus, he or she may be able to offer specific treatment to eliminate the noise. This determination may require extensive testing, including x-rays and other imaging studies, audiological tests, tests of balance function, and other laboratory work. However, most of the time, other than linking the presence of tinnitus to sensory hearing loss, specific causes are very difficult to identify. Although there is no specific medication for tinnitus, occasionally medications may be tried and some may help to reduce the noise. Here are some other tinnitus treatment options:
• Alternative treatments, such as mindful meditation
• Amplification (hearing aids)
• Cochlear implants or electrical stimulation
• Cognitive therapy
• Drug therapy
• Sound therapy/tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
• TMJ treatment
It is relatively rare but not unheard of for patients under 18 years old to have tinnitus as a primary complaint, according to the Academy. However, it is possible that tinnitus in children is significantly under-reported, in part because young children may not be able to express this complaint. Also, in children with congenital sensorineural hearing loss that may be accompanied by tinnitus, this symptom may be unnoticed because it is something that is constant in their lives. In fact, they may habituate to it; the brain may learn to ignore this internal sound. In pre-teens and teens, the highest risk for developing tinnitus is associated with exposure to high intensity sounds, specifically listening to music. In particular, virtually all teenagers use personal MP3 devices and nearly all hand-held electronic games are equipped with ear buds. It is difficult for a parent to monitor the level of sound children are exposed to. Therefore, the best and most effective mode of prevention of tinnitus in children is proper education relative to excessive sound exposure, as well as monitoring by parents or other caregivers. Here are some tips to lessen the severity of tinnitus:
• Avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises.
• Get your blood pressure checked. If it is high, get your doctor’s help to control it.
• Decrease your intake of salt. Salt impairs blood circulation.
• Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, and tobacco.
• Exercise daily to improve your circulation.
• Get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.
• Stop worrying about the noise. Recognize your head noise as an annoyance and learn to ignore it as much as possible. It is part of you.
Concentration and relaxation exercises can help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body. The increased relaxation and circulation achieved by these exercises can reduce the intensity of tinnitus in some patients. Masking a head noise with a competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock or radio static (white noise), may make it less noticeable. Tinnitus is usually more bothersome in quiet surroundings. Products that generate white noise are available through catalogs and specialty stores, according to ENT specialists.
Hearing aids may reduce head noise while you are wearing them and sometimes cause the noise to go away temporarily. If you have a hearing loss, it is important not to set the hearing aid at excessively loud levels, as this can worsen the tinnitus in some cases. However, a thorough trial before purchase of a hearing aid is advisable if your primary purpose is the relief of tinnitus. Tinnitus maskers can be combined within hearing aids. They emit a competitive but pleasant sound that can distract you from head noise. Some people find that a tinnitus masker may even suppress the head noise for several hours after it is used, but this is not true for all users. Much more details can be found at their website: http://www.entnet.org/HealthInformation/tinnitus.cfm .
Tinnitus can be stressful because it can be difficult to describe, predict, and manage, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Self-help groups are available in many communities for sharing information and coping strategies for living with tinnitus. Often a self-help group promotes feelings of hope and control. Members of the group share strategies they have found successful in dealing with their tinnitus. It can help to be reassured that you do not have a rare disease or serious brain disorder or are not going deaf. With support, people with tinnitus usually find that they can cope with their tinnitus. Your audiologist can connect you with a self-help group in your area. For additional information or help in finding a group near you, contact the American Tinnitus Association (ATA). More info about getting ways to help with this malady can be found at this website: http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/tinnitus/ .
Ringing in the ears and other forms of tinnitus should be addressed by your family doctor or a health care professional if it continues over a prolonged period of time. If you are suffering from more severe symptoms, see your primary care provider as soon as possible. Tinnitus is most inconvenient only to those who are suffering from it, as no one else can hear what you are hearing. Get relief, and be proactive with your health.
Until next time.