Do you ever experience ringing, buzzing or hissing in your ears? If so, you may suffer from tinnitus. Tinnitus is the perception of sound without external sound stimuli. This can manifest as ringing, buzzing or even roaring and can be extremely frustrating and distracting in everyday life. If you experience these symptoms, it could be an indication of injury to your auditory system.
Prevalence of Tinnitus
According to a University of California – Irvine study, roughly one in every ten Americans have experienced tinnitus in just the past year. Surveying data from over 75,000 adult subjects, the research found that 9.6% of people have a recent experience of tinnitus. Among the 21.4 million US adults who deal with tinnitus, 27% have had symptoms for longer than 15 years and 36% experience nearly constant symptoms. Higher rates of tinnitus were reported in those with consistent exposure to loud noises at work and during leisure activities.
Experience of Tinnitus
The source of tinnitus varies from individual to individual and can be caused by problems located anywhere in the auditory system including the outer, middle and inner ear as well as the auditory nerve that connects our hearing to our brain.
Most often, tinnitus arises as an effect of hearing damage caused by excessive noise exposure. This is why it is essential to bring hearing protection to your favorite concert or while in a noisy work environment. Tinnitus can also be caused by impact injuries or head trauma, infections and other diseases, and even as a side effect of certain medications.
It is often explained as a “misfiring” of your hearing where components of your auditory system are activated as they would be in the presence of sound waves, despite the reality that they are not being triggered by an actual sound.
The noise of tinnitus can wrestle away our focus and attention from more important listening and contribute to a higher risk of depression. The severity of tinnitus can vary from person to person. In the UC Irvine study, participants with tinnitus were asked to describe the intensity of the condition in their life. Roughly 7% of respondents viewed tinnitus as a major problem. Just over 40 percent described their tinnitus as a minor health issue with the majority of participants classifying the significance of their tinnitus somewhere in between.
No cure exists for tinnitus, but approaches for minimizing tinnitus do. Treatment strategies that may be beneficial include avoiding excessive noise and using ear plugs when it is unavoidable. Other deterrents of tinnitus include caffeine, nicotine and decongestants, which can also aggravate symptoms. Sometimes adding background noise like quiet music, a fan or a white noise machine can distract the brain from the internal noise.
If the symptoms are particularly exasperated, using medications such as sedatives or antidepressants can help when the condition interferes with sleep or causes a high level of anxiety or stress, however this is not a permanent solution. Meditation, chi gong, and yoga can help people relax to cope with tinnitus, as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Often tinnitus therapy involves blending the distracting tinnitus sound into a variable and calming sound palette that reduces the significance of the tinnitus sound to the listener. Tinnitus therapies are available, with many hearing aid manufacturers offering a feature that plays white noise or nature sounds to mask tinnitus sounds. Amplifying hearing with a hearing aid can be one of the greatest tools in battling tinnitus, because the brain would rather process external sounds than be distracted by an internal noise. There are even smart phone applications available now to combat tinnitus. Just as tinnitus can be different for every individual, finding effective tinnitus therapy may take some trial and error.
Visit Us at Active Hearing & Audiology
Approximately 80-90 percent of tinnitus cases are accompanied by a hearing loss. For people with significant hearing loss, looking for a hearing aid that has built in tinnitus relief may make the most sense for treating this common and frustrating condition. Many modern hearing aids with tinnitus relief offer richly customizable options for creating the most effective tinnitus relief. To learn more, contact us at Active Hearing & Audiology for a consultation.