Tinnitus is that pesky ringing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, roaring, whistling or whooshing in your ears with no external sound source. Tinnitus may be soft or loud, low pitch or high pitch, in one or both ears, and range from a nuisance to debilitating. Approximately 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus.
What Causes Tinnitus?
It is important to note that tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease itself. Therefore, there are many possible underlying causes. Some of the common causes include:
- Impacted earwax
- Noise exposure
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Ear and sinus infections
- Heart disease
- Meniere’s disease
- Brain tumors
- Hormonal changes
- Thyroid abnormalities
- Medication side effect
- Problems with blood flow
While a number of conditions can trigger tinnitus, it is unclear exactly what is going on in the ears and the brain that create the sounds. However, there are a few theories.
One theory is that tinnitus is the result of a brain’s neural circuit trying to overcompensate for loss of hearing by turning up sensitivity to sound. This could be why some people with tinnitus have hypersensitivity to loud noises.
Another theory is that damage to the inner ear can throw neural circuits out of balance, essentially, they’re sending incorrect signals to the auditory cortex.
Can Tinnitus Be Prevented?
In some cases, yes, and in other cases, no. The best thing you can do to prevent tinnitus is to wear ear protection when attending concerts, watching fireworks, shooting firearms, using power tools and participating in any other noisy activity. This will help preserve the sensory nerve cells in the inner ears.
Some people report that their tinnitus is triggered by stress. Practicing stress management techniques like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises may prevent episodes.
Is there a Cure for Tinnitus?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus. However, there are plenty of options to help you manage symptoms. An audiologist may recommend one or a combination of the treatments below:
- Hearing aids can be used to reduce tinnitus by turning up other sounds for you to focus on instead.
- Counseling can help reduce your negative response to tinnitus. For example, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps you identify and alter your emotional response to tinnitus so over time it is less distressing.
- Sound generators can be worn like hearing aids, but they play white noise rather than amplifying sounds in the environment. These work by essentially masking your tinnitus.
- Playing music or turning on a fan can have the same effect for less cost. If you notice your tinnitus is bothersome, turning on background noise can help distract you from your symptoms.
For more information about tinnitus management or to schedule an appointment with an expert, call Audiology Center Northwest today.