Have you ever found yourself complaining about a ringing noise? Moreover, have you then discovered that no one else around you can hear it? Is the mystery sound interfering with your ability to go about your day or fall asleep at night? If the answer is “yes,” you might be suffering from tinnitus.
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is simply defined as a ringing or buzzing in the ears. The ringing isn’t from any external source, can be heard in one or both ears, and is not heard by others. Tinnitus is common, especially in older adults, and affects 15%-20%(opens in a new tab) of people.
Though ringing is the most common, the noises from tinnitus can vary from person to person. Rather than a ringing, some people might hear a whooshing, humming, roaring, hissing, or clicking. Some people might experience tinnitus so loudly that it can be hard to hear the world around them, while for others, it might be more like background noise. The sounds might be high pitched or low pitched, and they might be present all the time or only sometimes.
Most important to know, however, is that regardless of how tinnitus manifests, it usually signals an underlying condition.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be caused by many different things, including:
- Hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus. Located inside your inner ear are tiny hairs that send electrical signals to your brain when sound moves them, allowing your brain to understand and process the sounds your ears are hearing. As we age or are exposed to loud sounds, these hairs may bend or break, and will occasionally send incorrect signals for sounds that aren’t really happening, such as a ringing, or tinnitus.
- Ear infection or blockage. When the ear canal is blocked, either by fluid from an infection, excess wax build up, or foreign materials like dirt or sand, the pressure inside your ear can change, causing tinnitus.
- Middle ear issues. Many different conditions can cause changes in the middle ear, including bone growth or stiffening (otosclerosis(opens in a new tab)) in the middle ear, muscle spasms in the middle ear, and Eustachian tube dysfunction(opens in a new tab), wherein the tube that connects the middle ear to the throat is expanded at all times, causing a feeling of fullness in the ear.
- Temporomandibular joint disorders, more commonly known as TMJ, can also cause tinnitus. TMJ occurs when teeth are misaligned, causing further misalignment in the surrounding bones, muscles, and tendons, which in turn can cause the muscles in the ear to strain. This strain can lead to tinnitus.
- Other chronic issues like migraines, diabetes, anemia, and autoimmune disorders have also been linked to tinnitus.
Can Tinnitus be Prevented?
While tinnitus can be the result of something unpreventable, there are still several measures that can be taken to prevent the most common cause of tinnitus: hearing loss. Largely, it’s important to stay aware of the volume of noises around you.
For example, your headphones. Whether you’re listening to music, watching a video, playing a video game, or even making a phone call, you may be using headphones playing audio at too high a volume. When sound waves reach our ears, little hairs in the inner ear vibrate and send electrical signals to the brain, which interprets those signals as sounds. When those hairs are exposed to noises that are too loud for too long, they lose that sensitivity, leading to hearing loss and tinnitus. For this reason, it’s important to watch how loud your headphones are, as well as how long you’re using them.
However, if you’re at a concert, a sporting event, or if you have a job that requires you to be around loud machinery all day, you won’t have the option to simply turn the volume down. In cases like these, it’s best to protect your hearing with earplugs. Because earplugs block your ear canal, they protect those delicate hairs in your inner ear from the intense sound vibrations around you, preventing damage.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Because hearing loss is the most common culprit, the most common treatments for tinnitus are hearing loss treatments, such as hearing aids. Hearing aids are a great tool; not only do they amplify sound, allowing the wearer to hear things they might otherwise be missing, but the added emphasis on external sounds reduces the attention given to the internal noise of tinnitus. Most patients who suffer from tinnitus find that wearing hearing aids gives them partial or total relief from their tinnitus.
Your audiologist may make other suggestions for treatment, such as a tinnitus masker, which provides noise to cover tinnitus without amplifying sounds like a hearing aid, or a cochlear implant, a medical device that partially restores hearing by bypassing the damaged parts of the inner ear and delivering sound signals directly to the auditory nerve.
For some people, tinnitus comes and goes, and for others, the ringing in their ears is part of daily life. If you’re experiencing tinnitus, it is important to seek out professional help from the hearing specialists at Hearing Unlimited, who can properly diagnose and treat your tinnitus(opens in a new tab).
The experienced audiologists Hearing Unlimited are here to help with all your hearing needs. Located in Monroeville, PA, we have been helping our patients regain their lives by treating and restoring their hearing loss since 1949. Schedule an appointment with us today, or call (412)-347-5550 to stay on top of your hearing health.