Tinnitus is a physical condition where a person hears noises or ringing in one or both ears (or head) when no external physical sound is present.
Tinnitus symptoms include the following noises:
In many cases an exact cause is never found, but a common cause of tinnitus is inner ear hair cell damage. Most common causes of tinnitus include:
- Age Related Hearing Loss. For many people, as we age the risk for hearing loss increases (starting around 60-65 years of age), and hearing loss can cause tinnitus. For more information on age related hearing loss, please read our Presbycusis blog.
- Exposure to Loud Noise (most common cause of tinnitus). Heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms are common causes of noise induced hearing loss. Loud music for extended periods of time can also cause noise induced hearing loss. For more information, please read our Hearing Loss Due to Loud Noise blog.
- Earwax Blockage. Too much earwax can block the ear canal and can cause tinnitus through hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum.
- Middle Ear Bone Changes. Stiffening of the bones in the middle ear (otosclerosis) can cause hearing loss that may lead to tinnitus. This condition usually tends to run in the family and is caused by abnormal bone growth.
Other causes can include chronic health conditions, and injuries or conditions that affect the nerves in your ear or the hearing center in your brain.
There are two kinds of tinnitus, subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is the kind of tinnitus that can only be heard by the person experiencing tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is usually due to noise exposure. Objective tinnitus is a rare type of tinnitus that can be externally heard by the hearing care professional during an examination. Objective tinnitus may be caused by a blood vessel problem, a middle ear bone condition or muscle contractions.
Tinnitus can significantly affect the quality of life. Although tinnitus affects people differently, people with tinnitus may also experience:
- Sleep Problems
- Trouble Concentrating
- Memory Problems
- Anxiety and Irritability
If left untreated, these linked conditions may exacerbate the tinnitus problem. On the other hand, treating these conditions may provide some much needed relief.
- 10-15% of people suffer from chronic tinnitus (i.e., more than six months).
- More than nine out of ten people with tinnitus also have hearing loss.
- About 20% of people with tinnitus find the symptoms difficult to bear.
There is currently no scientifically proven cure for most cases of chronic tinnitus. There are however several options listed below in order to help people manage their condition.
- Learn relaxation methods.
- Leave some sort of background noise like a fan or am radio noise at night when trying to sleep.
- Transform negative emotions into positive emotions.
- Avoid withdrawing from friends or activities.
- Use amplification from hearing aids when hearing loss is present with tinnitus.
- Many hearing aids now offer a tinnitus therapy feature that can be turned on if the amplification itself does not provide tinnitus relief. Also, people with normal hearing who suffer from tinnitus can try a hearing aid with a tinnitus therapy feature to alleviate their tinnitus.
- Use medical devices such as Neuromonics SoundCure, Otoharmonics and Acoustic CR Neuromodulation.
Till next time,
Kostas (Gus) Neoclis, Sc.D., CCC-A, Audiologist