Tinnitus may occur from many different causes. The most common cause is damage to the hair cells of the inner ear, often due to extended exposure to extreme background noise. The longer one is exposed to excessive noise and the louder the noise is, the higher the likelihood that damage is going to occur. The importance of wearing ear protection in those situations to decrease the risk of developing hearing loss with the complication of tinnitus cannot be stressed enough.
Other common reasons that hair cells can become damaged are the natural process of aging, sudden-
impact noises, or middle-ear infections. In addition, stress, adverse reactions to medicines, neck or head injuries, and other untreated medical conditions may all contribute to tinnitus. Let’s not forget that those who wear numerous types of earphones for streaming of phone calls or music may also be at risk of developing tinnitus.
According to recent research and the Hearing Health Foundation, up to 90 percent of individuals who are experiencing tinnitus or ringing in the ear also have documented hearing loss. Each individual experiences tinnitus differently in terms of pitch, volume, presence, and type, and in turn reacts differently to the presence of tinnitus. There are many whose brain has trained itself to compensate for the hearing loss by turning up an “inner volume control” to amplify otherwise unnoticeable sounds in the environment.
In some cases, tinnitus is extremely bothersome and starts to cause emotional problems such as anxiety, stress, or even depression. This type of event may be unavoidable, so the first recommendation is to keep tinnitus at bay. In addition, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reports that the condition increases steadily with age. It peaks between the ages of 60 and 69 years. However, as mentioned earlier, symptoms vary widely.
Medical News Today defines tinnitus as the perception of noise or ringing in the ear. It’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as hearing loss, trauma to the ear, or a circulatory disorder to name a few, and affects about 15 to 20 percent of people. Tinnitus can interfere with the ability to hear normal conversational speech, affect the ability to concentrate at work or school, and continue into the evening hours when it affects the ability to relax. It can even lead to a sleep disorder or other psychological problems.
The presence of tinnitus is perceived as a real sound. The true perception of the noise is generated from the auditory pathways and, because it is not real, everyone describes it differently. Common descriptions include a ringing, buzzing, roaring, hissing or even rushing sound.
Since tinnitus is not considered an illness and isn’t treated with prescription drugs, the goal of treatment is to minimize the negative awareness to a level that is considered bearable. According to the American Tinnitus Association, about 80 percent of people with tinnitus are able to achieve compensation by simply utilizing hearing amplification. Many hearing aids also have a tinnitus treatment option called sound therapy, which is a program built into the hearing aid that allows wearers to adjust sounds according to their needs to reduce the presence of tinnitus and bring relief.
The cure for tinnitus is using tools available to reduce awareness and mask the tinnitus, giving individuals a greater sense of control over it and reducing its impact on their daily life. The combination of sound therapy, education, and counseling can be very effective at helping people with tinnitus cope with symptoms, sleep better, and learn how to avoid circumstances that trigger tinnitus.
Sound therapy is a helpful tool for managing tinnitus symptoms. It makes it possible to listen to different, carefully selected sounds, which can help the individual feel that the tinnitus is reduced or temporarily gone. It thus directs attention away from the tinnitus and helps the individual focus on something more pleasant. Your hearing-care professional can help you find the sound therapy that provides the most effective relief.
The audiologists at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic are experts in the area of tinnitus. Please feel free to contact us with questions or request an appointment.
Randa Mansour-Shousher, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327). ❦