Ringing in the Ear: The Truth About Tinnitus

Do you ever hear a high-pitch sound in your head or feel like your ears are ringing? Don’t panic; you aren’t going crazy. This is known as Tinnitus, and it affects more than 50 million people in the United States. And while it’s not something that can be cured, it can be managed to not be as disruptive. Here, we’ll discuss what Tinnitus is, what causes it, and ways to manage it.

What Exactly Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often described as a “ringing in the ear,” but it can also sound like roaring, hissing, clicking, or buzzing. It can be loud or soft, high or low pitched, and occur in one or both ears. For some, Tinnitus may not really affect daily life, but it can be extremely uncomfortable and disruptive for other sufferers.

What Are the Symptoms of Tinnitus?

Tinnitus occurs when a person hears a constant ringing (or another type of sound, as mentioned above) in one or both ears, even though there is no external noise. In some cases, the noise may be so loud that it affects concentration or the ability to hear external sounds. In rare cases, a person might experience a whooshing sound or rhythmic pulsing in time with their heartbeat, known as pulsatile Tinnitus.

Who Is More Prone to Getting Tinnitus?

While we often associate hearing issues with people over a certain age, Tinnitus is common among all age groups. Roughly 30% of people will experience a small bout of Tinnitus at some point in their lives, whereas only about 13% experience it persistently. Tinnitus tends to be more common among those who have experienced hearing loss, but it can affect those with perfectly normal hearing.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not considered a disease, but a symptom that signals something isn’t quite right in the auditory system (which includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound). The causes, or underlying issue, could be something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal, but it can also be the result of any of the following:

  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Aging or age-related hearing loss
  • Heart or blood vessel diseases
  • Ototoxic medications
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
  • Allergies
  • Brain tumors
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Thyroid abnormalities

Fortunately, Tinnitus rarely indicates a more serious condition.

Are There Risk Factors Associated With Tinnitus?

Anyone can experience Tinnitus, but a few factors can increase your risk of developing it.

  • Exposure to loud noises
  • Age (as a person gets older, the number of functioning nerve fibers in their ears declines)
  • Men are more likely to experience Tinnitus than women.
  • Smoking and/or alcohol use
  • Health problems such as obesity, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, a history of arthritis, or a head injury can increase your risk of Tinnitus.

What Treatments Exist to Help with Tinnitus?

If you suffer from Tinnitus or a persistent ringing in your ear, contact your doctor immediately. While there is no cure for Tinnitus, a medical professional can help you develop an individualized treatment plan based on your symptoms.

  • Hearing aids are used to carefully control outside sound levels to make it easier for a person to hear. Oftentimes, the better you can hear external noises, the less you can hear the ringing, buzzing, whooshing, clicking, etc.
  • Counseling is an excellent resource for learning to live with Tinnitus, including finding ways to cope with it, how to fall asleep at night, and what can lead your Tinnitus to worsen.
  • In-ear sound generators can create pleasant sounds to mask Tinnitus.
  • Sound machines that play rain or nature sounds or white noise can cover up Tinnitus.
  • Cochlear implants are used on those that experience a combination of extreme hearing loss and Tinnitus. They bypass the damaged portion of the inner ear and send electrical signals to directly stimulate the auditory nerve.
  • Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs may be part of your treatment plan to improve your mood and quality of sleep.

Have you or a loved one suffered from Tinnitus? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

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