Millions of people around the world complain of having tinnitus. If you think tinnitus is a rare condition that only affects older people – then guess again!
Many people of different ages from all walks of life report having heard ringing in the ears or tingling, buzzing, whooshing, clicking and rushing noises where no apparent sound source can be identified.
Does that mean they’re going crazy? Well, that’s always possible of course! However, what they most likely have is a very real symptom of hearing damage occasioned by exposure to excessive noise – perhaps for continuous or prolonged periods.
This damage causes an annoying ringing in the ears which is commonly known as tinnitus. The ringing in the ears sensation may come and go, be persistent or may vanish of its own accord after a time. It affects different people in different ways.
Don’t Let Tinnitus Ruin Your Life
Many people go about their daily lives and try and push their tinnitus to the background or otherwise attempt to ignore or mask it. For some this approach might be successful.
For others it’s not. Tinnitus can be so distressing for some people that it can distract them from performing normal every day activities.
In acute cases, tinnitus may cause fatigue, mood swings and even depression. Tinnitus is not imaginary but can be a very real and annoying problem that can make the sufferer feel that they are going slowly but surely crazy.
That doesn’t mean that you have to put up with constant ringing ears and be held hostage by tinnitus.
What is Tinnitus?
During our lives most of us will experience or perceive sounds in the ears or head at some point where no external physical sound or noise source can be detected.
Tinnitus is an actual physical condition experienced by humans where an individual perceives that there are sounds or noises such as ringing, tinkling, whooshing or swishing in either one or both ears. Some people liken the sensation to that of crickets or even electrical sounds or TV interference.
Tinnitus is a fault in the body’s auditory system and should be considered a symptom and not a disease.
The term “tinnitus” is of Latin origin and means “ringing”.
The ringing in the ear sensation experienced by tinnitus sufferers is often persistent and can be disturbing to those who have it. Sometimes tinnitus goes away of its own accord. In other cases sufferers may have to undergo medical treatment to overcome the problem.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There may be any number of causes of tinnitus.
One main cause of tinnitus is exposure to abnormally loud sounds.
People who are exposed to machinery, power tools (mowers, chain saws, grinders, electric saws etc), those who work in the construction industry, rock musicians (and audience goers), the use of in-ear headphones turned up loud, firearms users often complain of ringing of the ears. These people are considered at higher risk of experiencing tinnitus.
Other causes may include:
- Ear infections
- Wax in the eardrum
- Nasal allergies
- Drug use/withdrawal
- Meniere’s disease
Tinnitus can also be brought about from hearing loss caused through the process of ageing. It has been suggested by some that as the cochlea inside the ear sustains damage over time its function of translating sound signals to the brain becomes impaired.
This dysfunction then causes the brain to fabricate a proxy noise as a compensation for a lack of normal signals it’s used to receiving. It is theorised that this is proxy noise (ringing in the ears) is manifested as tinnitus.
What Types Of Tinnitus Are There?
Tinnitus can be broadly categorised into two main types.
- Objective tinnitus
- Subjective tinnitus
Objective tinnitus is where an actual sound or noise coming from within the sufferer’s ear can be detected by a doctor or specialist. This type of tinnitus can be triggered from problems associated with the muscles of the ear or throat area. Muscular spasms or twitching may cause clicking or crackling sounds.
Misalignment of the tempero-mandibular joint (the joint that hinges the lower jaw to the skull) or TMJ may be a cause of objective tinnitus.
Pulsatile tinnitus is a form of objective tinnitus experienced by some sufferers where a sound is heard that beats like a pulse. This condition is usually associated with an increase in blood vessel turbulence or flow near the ear itself. Causes of pulsatile tinnitus may include:
- Atherosclerosis (vascular disease)
- Thyroid problems
- Increased fluid pressure surrounding the brain
In the rare case of tumors, these can attach to the nerve that supplies hearing to the brain. Tumor caused tinnitus is usually experienced in one ear only and not both as is usually experienced with tinnitus accompanying hearing loss.
Subjective tinnitus is where only the sufferer can hear sound or noise. Subjective tinnitus can be triggered by many factors. Causes of subjective tinnitus can be more difficult to pin point than objective tinnitus and may result from similar conditions that cause hearing impairment.
Noise-induced hearing loss is considered the most common cause of subjective tinnitus.
The consumption of numerous medications, including the “humble” aspirin has been reported to produce subjective tinnitus as a side effect. So too has withdrawal from certain drugs such as benzodiazepines (e.g. Alprazolam, Diazepam, Lorazepam, Clonazepam, Triazolam).
What Are The Symptoms Of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus may usually be heard or perceived as a type of ringing of the ears. The noise may be perceived in either one or both ears.
As previously mentioned, the sounds associated with tinnitus may vary from person to person and have even been described by some sufferers as a whooshing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, whining, beeping, rushing or electrical type noise.
The sensation may stay for a prolonged period and then die down or it can seem continuous and persistent. The intensity of tinnitus noise may range from subtle to very loud.
Severe cases may cause distress to the sufferer. The degree of intensity may be altered in some individuals by simple movements to their eyes, jaw, shoulders, head etc.
Hearing loss is often associated with tinnitus. Its presence may make it difficult for those afflicted with it to properly hear normal sounds and participate fully in conversations.
In more acute cases, tinnitus may contribute toward depression, fatigue and irritability in some individuals.
Who Does Tinnitus Affect?
Tinnitus affects millions of people the world over. It has been roughly estimated that tinnitus impacts some 400 million people world wide.
Of this, it has been claimed that around 50 million Americans suffer from or have experienced tinnitus to varying degrees. So too do around 3.5 million Australians and almost 5 million Britons.
Tinnitus has shown to be usually more prevalent in males than females. Almost a third of people over 65 years of age report or complain of tinnitus. Most people who have tinnitus experience it to a more mild (not severe) extent.
The most important thing to do if you think you have tinnitus is to see a medical practitioner to have it properly evaluated and assessed.
A doctor may refer a tinnitus sufferer to an audiologist, who may conduct a number of hearing tests, or to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist.
In some cases a tinnitus sufferer may be asked to undergo an auditory brainstem response (ABR) or a brain scan such as a computerized tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This may be accompanied by blood pressure tests and (in more unusual cases) a spinal tap.
Given that tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease in itself, its onset may be triggered by a treatable medical cause.
While most cases of tinnitus are not attributable to any dire problems, it is possible that its prevalence may stem from a more serious underlying condition. For example:
- Sudden loss of hearing may be accompanied by tinnitus. This should be checked out promptly as there may be a treatable cause that responds to medication.
- Tumors can cause sudden loss of hearing and tinnitus – often in one ear. Early evaluation is a must.
- Pulsatile tinnitus which can develop because of an aneurysm near the ear, tumors or high blood pressure warrants early attention.
- Where a person’s mood, personality, speech, walking and general movement changes in conjunction with the detection of tinnitus. There is a possibility that this could be attributed to a stroke.
What Can Make Tinnitus Worse?
There are a number of things tinnitus sufferers can do to prevent their conditions from getting worse.
- Avoid loud noises – working in certain trades or professions such as factories, transport, construction etc can not only bring on tinnitus but continued exposure to loud noise can make it worse. So too can attendance at live rock concerts, mowing the lawn, using chain saws, whipper snippers and playing music too loud. Use ear plugs/muffs diligently and reduce volume on electronic devices.
- Learn to relax – try and manage your stressors by altering your lifestyle. Focus on things that deviate attention away from your tinnitus condition. Consider relaxation therapy, take up yoga, meditation, sporting activities, have regular massages – try reflexology.
- Review your medications – some prescription and non-prescription medications or supplements may trigger tinnitus or make it worse. Consult your medical practitioner about compatibility of medications with your tinnitus condition and discuss alternatives.
- Reduce your caffeine intake and try to quit smoking – aside from improving your general health, doing so may be beneficial to your tinnitus as well.
What Can Be Done To Prevent Tinnitus?
Unfortunately, for some people, tinnitus can be a life long or permanent affliction. That’s why it’s so important to avoid damage to one’s hearing in the first place.
There are precautions that can be followed to help avoid getting tinnitus or at least protect against tinnitus caused through excessive and/or prolonged noise.
- Loud noises can trigger a ringing of the ears. Avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises.
- Use hearing protection in workplaces or environments which are noisy; e.g. building sites, transport industry, factories, ground keeping, music industry.
- Use hearing protection such as ear plugs or ear muffs at concerts, sporting events (speedway, drags, hunting etc).
- Reduce/minimise exposure to daily noises such as lawn mowers, chain saws, air hammers, hair dryers etc.
- Avoid damage to the ear or auditory system by medications (otoxity). Taking multiple medications can have a potential impact upon tinnitus levels.
Deafness And Tinnitus
Tinnitus is often associated with or accompanies impairment or some loss of hearing. Some people may begin to hear a ringing in the ears yet do not complain of a loss of hearing.
Treatment of tinnitus should commence with seeking proper medical advice. In devising appropriate solutions to tinnitus, it is important to establish whether it is caused by an underlying problem that may respond to treatment.
For most people there is no specific operation or cure for tinnitus.
Only a small percentage of tinnitus cases are caused by a particular dysfunction that can be identified and surgically treated (objective tinnitus). Where the tinnitus is caused by the presence of a physical ailment such as a tumor, aneurysm, otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease or middle ear infection, its treatment involves medical or surgical correction.
Most cases of tinnitus fall into the “subjective’ category where treatments are mainly those that seek to minimise, mask or manage the condition.
There are a number of avenues that can be explored by tinnitus sufferers and clinicians to help reduce the effects of tinnitus. Some of these are:
- Herbal remedies (when taken under medical supervision)
- Hearing aids – for tinnitus occasioned through hearing loss or impairment, properly fitted hearing aids may help eliminate or reduce tinnitus noise and its distractions.
- Therapeutic noise generators are a device that stimulates the hearing nerve by generating a mix of external sounds and helping the wearer to focus away from the tinnitus. These are similar in appearance to a hearing aid although used to assist people without hearing loss.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy may involve the use of hearing aids and therapeutic noise generators to reduce or overcome an individual’s perception of tinnitus and its distractions
- Clinical psychologists may be able to minister Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) to assist tinnitus sufferers. This treatment is aimed at overcoming distress and facilitates adaptation of tinnitus by the patient
- Temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) problems may cause tinnitus because of the close connectivity between jaw and middle ear muscles. Although a small percentage of tinnitus is caused by TMJ, it is worth checking out as this condition is treatable. Consult your dentist or orthodontist if in doubt.
Future Outlook For Tinnitus
Most people who get tinnitus will experience it to a relatively mild degree. Many people will use their own coping strategies that best suit them and tend to adapt to it without too much drama.
Its presence and intensity may vary according to one’s general state of health and may be more noticeable at times of stress, tiredness or fatigue.
The big hint here is to try and reduce the stressors in your life as much as you can.
One of the better and most cost effective solutions to tinnitus is to simply try and relax and keep yourself focused on other things and away from the tinnitus where at all possible.
Scientific research still continues into tinnitus to better understand it and improve available treatment options. If it gets too troublesome it’s always wise to seek professional medical help.
How I Got Tinnitus
As a person who has had tinnitus I understand only too well the frustration that can come with constant ringing of the ears. In my case, I can clearly identify what triggered the onset of my tinnitus.
Like a lot of people in their youth, I used to attend rock music concerts on the weekends and sometimes at nights during the week. The closer my friends and I could get to the source of the music the better. I always remember trying to have conversations at the bar and had to yell to make myself heard.
Likewise, when people would try and talk to me, I’d look at their lips to try and interpret what they were saying as I could barely hear them over the raucous din.
When the gig was over, I’d walk outside to the kerb and could recall a pulsing/whooshing sensation in my ears and head and a definite deafness that would last until I went to sleep.
Sometimes I would experience ringing ears the following day, making conversation at work a little strained.
In the 1970’s and 80’s I also liked the roar and thrills of speedway, hot rods and the drag strip. These were considered “Must Do’s” on most weekends and the closer you could get to the staging lanes and the action – the better.
When the dragsters and funny cars did their burnouts and leapt off the line at the show of the green light, the thundering roar of engines at full throttle and scream of tyres spinning and smoking on the tarmac would shake and resonate through your entire body.
Some people chose to wear ear muffs or plugs to counter the noise. Like many others, I didn’t! This only served to make the ringing in the ears that much worse.
Then, when I hit my late 30’s, I discovered I had elevated blood pressure and was required to take prescription medication to control it as well as the humble aspirin to help thin the blood. It was a little after this point that I first seemed to recall hearing a ringing sensation in both ears.
Initially it was faint then progressively increased in intensity to the point where I would consider it to be moderate. On some days I would barely notice it at all, especially if I was busy and preoccupied with work. On others (particularly if I was tired or felt a little unwell) I would notice it more.
Help Is Here!
I wanted to share my experience with tinnitus and decided to create concertear.com to offer potential solutions to the many millions of people around the world who suffer from ringing in the ears caused by tinnitus so that they can be better equipped to deal with the condition, get on with their lives and not be held captive to this uninvited guest.
Here, at concertear.com, you’ll find lots of easy to read information about tinnitus. What it is, how it’s caused, diagnosis, demographics, symptoms, tinnitus treatments, resources and more. Simply navigate your way around the site by clicking on the tabs at the top of the page.
Take action today. Stop that infernal ringing of the ears and don’t let tinnitus ruin your life!