Have you ever heard a ringing or buzzing noise in your ears? You may have experienced this after attending a concert or leaving a noisy restaurant. This describes tinnitus, a phantom-like sound that is heard in one or both ears when no external sound is actually present. Over 50 million people experience tinnitus and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 20 million people have chronic tinnitus. Tinnitus can make it tougher to hear, take a toll on quality sleep, and prevent concentration. These effects can impact communication, relationships, work performance, and overall health and wellness. If you experience tinnitus, there are several strategies you can practice to alleviate it.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a condition itself. According to the American Tinnitus Association, there are nearly 200 medical conditions that can produce tinnitus as a symptom. Some of the most common causes of tinnitus include:
- Hearing loss: it is estimated that 90% of cases of tinnitus occur with underlying hearing loss. Hearing loss can be caused by several factors including aging, exposure to loud noise, existing medical conditions, and head injuries. It most often occurs when sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged. These cells play a critical role in how we hear – they convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals for the brian. Damage to these cells results in the brain receiving less auditory information, causing hearing loss. This also produces a range of symptoms including tinnitus.
- Head injuries: An estimated 3 million head injuries occur every year. A blow or force to the head can impact physical, cognitive, and hearing health. Head injuries can damage several components of the auditory system including the bones in the middle ear, the eardrum, or the sensory cells in the inner ear. This can produce hearing challenges as well as tinnitus.
- Ear obstructions: this describes factors that can prevent soundwaves from being fully absorbed and processed. Ear obstruction includes accumulated ear wax, a perforated eardrum, bone growths, and ear infections. This can cause conductive hearing loss, a type of temporary hearing loss that can typically be resolved through medical interventions. In addition to temporary hearing challenges, these factors can also trigger tinnitus.
- Ototoxic medications: there are medications that can impact the auditory system. This includes specific antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. This can cause hearing loss as well as tinnitus.
Additional causes of tinnitus include temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), inner ear disorders, and autoimmune conditions.
Tips to Manage Tinnitus
Fortunately, there are effective ways that tinnitus can be managed, alleviating the impact it can have on everyday life. A few strategies include:
- Treating hearing loss: if you experience tinnitus, it is important to have your hearing evaluated. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures hearing capacities in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment you are experiencing. Hearing aids are the most common way hearing loss is treated. These electronic devices are designed to absorb, amplify, and process speech as well as sound. This provides the ears and brain with ample support which alleviates symptoms like tinnitus and maximizes one’s capacity to hear.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy: TRT is a type of sound therapy that involves training the brain to deemphasize tinnitus. It involves using relaxation exercises and low levels of white noise to train the brain to understand tinnitus as mundane background noise.
- Sound machines: creating ambient noise by using sound machines is a useful way to mask tinnitus. This distracts the brain from tinnitus which alleviates it. You can use white noise machines or download an app to create background noise.
- Enhance sleep: tinnitus can affect one’s ability to initiate and/or maintain quality sleep. Lack of sleep can then trigger and worsen tinnitus which creates a cycle that can take a toll on how you feel daily. You can interrupt this cycle by creating the conditions to get quality sleep. This includes establishing and practicing a sleep routine, using sleep aids like earplugs, having comfortable bedding, adjusting lighting, avoiding screens at least 30 minutes prior to sleeping etc.
Additional strategies include increasing physical activity by taking a daily walk and engaging in activities to reduce stress. Practicing these strategies can alleviate tinnitus and support your health. Contact us today to learn more about tinnitus management and the services as well as resources that are available to support you.