According to the American Tinnitus Association, one-third of all adults will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that about 15% of adults, or 50 million people, have some Tinnitus. Although the condition is temporary for most sufferers, for about 20% of these people have it all the time, the condition is chronic.
What does tinnitus sound like?
Tinnitus is often called "ringing in the ears," but it can also sound like other sounds. Different people hear different sounds when they have tinnitus. The sounds have been described as a ringing, a whoosh, a pop, a buzz, a clanging, a rush of air, a whistle, or a low roar, among other things. Tinnitus sounds can be constant or come and go and can happen in one or both ears. The volume and frequency of the sounds may also change during the day.
The link between tinnitus and hearing loss
About 80% to 90% of the time, people with tinnitus also have hearing loss. Hearing experts think this is because of the link between hearing and the hair cells in the inner ear.
Damage to the hair cells inside the ear can cause hearing loss. The vibrations of sound are turned into neural signals that our brains can understand as sound by hair cells in the inner ear. Hearing experts think that when these hair cells are damaged, they may send false signals to the brain that the brain interprets as sound.
There are two kinds of tinnitus, but the overwhelming majority of cases involve subjective tinnitus, making up over 99 percent of all cases. With subjective tinnitus, only the person with the condition can hear the ringing sound.
Why do people get tinnitus?
Because tinnitus is often a sign of something else, like a disease or hearing loss, it is difficult to figure out what causes it. The most common causes are:
- Loud noise: Exposure to loud noises, either all at once or over a long time, can lead to hearing loss, which in turn can increase the chances of experiencing tinnitus.
- Impacted earwax: Earwax is essential for keeping our ears clean and free of infections and other diseases, but too much earwax can cause its own problems. Some people with too much earwax can hear the ringing or rushing sounds usually caused by tinnitus. When too much earwax isn't taken care of, it can sometimes build up and make it hard to hear.
- Ototoxic medicines: Tinnitus can also be a side effect of some " otoxic " drugs and hurt the hair cells in the inner ear. Some classes of anticancer chemotherapy drugs, diuretics, and antibiotics are among these, but they are not the only ones.
- Complications from injuries or other diseases: Ringing in the ears can be caused by trauma or injury to the head, neck, or throat and by tumors, infections, or changes in hormones.
Sometimes, tinnitus is a sign of an ear disease like Meniere's disease, which affects the amount of fluid in the inner ear.
Even though there is no one-and-only cure for tinnitus, there are ways to make it less bothersome on a day-to-day basis.
Treating the underlying causes may help eliminate the ringing. This includes removing earwax that has become stuck, switching medications, or using medicine or surgery to treat tumors and narrowed blood vessels.
Since tinnitus and hearing loss often go hand in hand, many hearing aid companies make devices that treat tinnitus with sound therapy. Some companies sell therapy programs for tinnitus, including exercises to retrain the brain and relaxation exercises to help people fall asleep. To "cover up" tinnitus sounds, these therapies use white noise generators or other soothing synthetic tones.
Contact us at Aberdeen Audiology to learn more about tinnitus and to get help.