Everything You Need to Know About Tinnitus
According to the Centers for Disease Control, over 50 million people in the U.S. struggle with tinnitus, which refers to ringing or the sensation of hearing buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sounds in one or both ears.
While for some people, tinnitus is always present, for others, it comes and goes.
Sadly, approximately 20 million people have burdensome chronic tinnitus, whereas up to 2 million have extreme, debilitating cases of tinnitus.
It is very important to note that tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom. Tinnitus occurs more often in men than women and is most common in people over the age of 60. Other groups at risk for developing tinnitus are military members and veterans, people who work in very noisy environments, and individuals who have hobbies that involve a lot of noise, such as snowmobiling or attending concerts.
What Causes Tinnitus and How Is It Diagnosed?
Tinnitus can have numerous causes, ranging from taking certain medications to a variety of health problems. Interestingly, there are two forms of tinnitus – subjective and objective. With subjective tinnitus, only you can hear the noise in your ear, while with objective tinnitus, the doctor examining you can hear it as well. The following are some of the causes of tinnitus:
Your doctor will begin investigating your tinnitus by first determining the type you suffer from. The symptom is detected by using hearing exams, the general tests performed by audiologists. These include a speech recognition test, assessing how well volumes and frequencies are heard, and checking the function of the middle ear. Nevertheless, in some cases, the exact cause of tinnitus cannot be found, but a serious underlying condition can be ruled out.
Risk Factors for Tinnitus
Contrary to popular belief, risk factors are not the same as causes. A cause is something that directly triggers a health condition, while a risk factor is something that has contributed to its development. These are the main risk factors for tinnitus:
- Loud noise exposure: Noises stemming from heavy equipment, chain saws, and firearms are common sources of hearing loss. Portable music devices can also cause hearing loss if played loudly for long periods. Lastly, people who work in noisy environments, such as factory and construction workers, musicians, and military members, are particularly at risk for tinnitus.
- Age: Because the number of functioning nerve fibers in your ears declines as you age, this might cause hearing problems that are often associated with tinnitus.
- Sex: Men are more prone to experiencing tinnitus.
- Alcohol and tobacco use: Smokers have a higher risk of developing tinnitus, as smoking restricts blood flow, which can contribute to the development of tinnitus. Likewise, excessive alcohol use can trigger this symptom as well, since alcohol causes blood vessels to swell, resulting in greater blood flow throughout the inner ear.
- Various health problems: Some health problems that can trigger tinnitus are obesity, high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, and a history of arthritis or head injury.
It is worthy of note that tinnitus affects people differently. Some can get used to it and ignore it if it is not very loud, being able to carry on as usual with their lives, whereas for others, tinnitus is unbearable because it involves a constant, very loud noise that prevents them from focusing on even the simplest activity.
How Can Tinnitus Be Treated?
Sometimes, tinnitus goes away by itself, but if it persists, your doctor will refer you to a medical specialist to help you find the right treatment. In addition to treating the underlying cause of tinnitus, the medical specialist might also prescribe you or advise you to use one or more of the following to help ease the burden of this bothersome symptom:
It is essential to mention that there is no universal treatment for tinnitus, as some people find different therapies helpful. Nonetheless, hearing aids are one of the most widely suggested treatments, as they can be equipped with sound masking features, allowing the person to block out the tinnitus sounds. If you struggle with severe tinnitus, we recommend you visit your doctor as soon as possible, as you can come to suffer from complications such as sleep problems, trouble concentrating, fatigue, stress, and difficulties with work and family life if you ignore this problem.
Although in many cases, tinnitus cannot be prevented, you can take some measures to avoid it if you are prone to developing it, such as:
- using hearing protection: try to limit your exposure to loud sounds and if you use chain saws, are a musician, work in a place that uses loud machinery, or use firearms, wear over-the-ear hearing protection
- turning down the volume: prolonged exposure to amplified music without ear protection or listening to music at a very high volume through headphones can cause tinnitus
- monitoring your cardiovascular health: engaging in regular exercise, eating right, and taking other steps to keep your blood vessels healthy can prevent tinnitus associated with obesity and blood vessel disorders
- limiting your intake of alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine: when used in excess, these substances can severely affect blood flow and eventually trigger tinnitus