Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing sounds that are not there. Normally, sound waves enter the ear, travel through the ear canal and middle ear and finally reach the hair cells located in the inner ear. These hair cells translate the sound waves into electrical impulses, which are then sent to the brain to be interpreted as sound.
Those who suffer from tinnitus have an interruption along the auditory pathway, which could result from damaged hair cells, cerumen or other medical issues related to the ear. When there is a deprivation of sound to the brain’s auditory centers, the brain will generate a phantom sound to compensate for the lack of input. That is what you hear as tinnitus, which may be described as a ring, hum, buzz, among many other descriptions.
Understanding the Facts
- 50 million Americans report some degree of tinnitus.
- Tinnitus may sound different to everyone. Sounds can range in volume and may present as a buzzing, humming, whistling or even the roar of the ocean.
- Tinnitus and hearing loss can go hand-in-hand; 90% of those that suffer from tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss.
- Nearly 40% of those that suffer from tinnitus experience the symptoms at least 80% of their day.
Symptoms, Causes, Impacts of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is actually a symptom, not a disorder. It can be caused by any of the following:
- Exposure to loud noises
- Reaction to medication
- Sudden impact noises
- Injury to the head or neck
- Natural aging process
- Impaction or obstruction to the ear
Managing Your Tinnitus
There is no cure as of yet for tinnitus; there are, however, ways to manage the symptoms in order to regain control and break the vicious cycle.
Hearing Aids and Masking Devices – Hearing aids are the single most effective way of managing tinnitus. Masking devices may also help and are often incorporated into modern hearing aids, but can also be standalone devices.
White Noise Machine/Fan – Noise machines can play any number of simulated sounds from the environment, such as rain or ocean waves. Fans can also help reduce the effects of tinnitus. These can be especially helpful while trying to fall asleep. There are also apps that are available for download (such as the ReSound Relief app) that serve this function.
Music – Listening to calming music can help fill silence, making the tinnitus stand out less.
Lifestyle changes can help control the impact of tinnitus on your life.
Meditation and Relaxation – Exercises in mindfulness can help you focus less on your tinnitus, as focusing directly on it can make it seem louder. Acupuncture and yoga can be helpful relaxation techniques.
Healthy Changes – Making healthy changes such as a good diet, exercising and thinking positively can have a positive impact on your life. Reducing caffeine, sodium and alcohol intake can help reduce the effects of tinnitus.
Good Sleep Practices – Creating and maintaining a sleep routine can help decrease the effect of tinnitus on your sleep.
Sound Therapy/Tinnitus Retraining Therapy – Sound therapy uses a tinnitus sound generating device to help tinnitus habituation. Retraining Therapy for Tinnitus (TRT) revolves around gaining knowledge about tinnitus and coming up with solutions to help cope with its effects. Sound therapy is an important component of TRT.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can be beneficial for those who are noticing significant anxiety and depression in relation to their tinnitus. Talk to your Audiologist or ENT provider for a referral.
If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911.
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