Understanding Tinnitus: Ringing in the Ears
Tinnitus occurs when a person hears a ringing or other noise in one or both ears. In most cases, the tinnitus sounds are not caused by any external sound, which means that other people can’t hear the same noise. Tinnitus can interfere with how a person hears actual sounds and may also affect concentration. Untreated tinnitus may affect overall health and wellness over time, possibly triggering anxiety, stress, depression, and other related medical concerns.
An estimated 50 million or more Americans experience tinnitus for various reasons. Knowing the symptoms, causes, and the onset of tinnitus is key in determining the best way to treat or manage tinnitus.
How common is tinnitus in the United States?
According to a study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, tinnitus affects roughly 32% of the U.S. population. The prevalence of tinnitus increases from 70% to 85% in the hearing-impaired demographic.
Common Symptoms of Tinnitus
The most common symptom of tinnitus includes hearing the following sounds (or a combination of sounds) at varying degrees of pitch or loudness:
These sounds can be heard constantly or intermittently. Some people with tinnitus encounter sleeping problems because they feel as if their brain never shuts off and they are left lying in bed trying to drown out tinnitus noises.
Two Types of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is categorized into two types – subjective and objective.
Subjective tinnitus is linked to an abnormality in the auditory pathway. People who have subjective tinnitus are the only ones who can hear the sounds.
Objective tinnitus involves an actual noise stemming from the blood vessels or vascular structures near the ears, head, or neck. The sounds produced by objective tinnitus can be heard by other people in close proximity to the patient. A doctor may be able to hear objective tinnitus through a stethoscope. People with high blood pressure are prone to experience objective tinnitus as well.
Common Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus may be caused by several factors which include:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Ototoxic medication
- Impacted earwax
- Ear infection
- Hearing loss
- Trauma to the head or ear
- Meniere’s disease
- Vascular disorders
If the cause is temporary (such as earwax buildup or ear infection), tinnitus can be resolved easily. However, for other causes of tinnitus, further tests and medication may be necessary to experience relief.
Tinnitus and Acoustic Neuroma (Brain Tumor)
Tinnitus is a common symptom of acoustic neuromas and various inner ear conditions. Individuals with acoustic neuromas may experience high-pitched tones in the affected ear where the tumor is in close proximity.
Tinnitus and Psychological Disorders
As mentioned earlier, while tinnitus is not considered fatal or a serious medical concern, untreated tinnitus may be associated with a variety of psychological disorders including anxiety disorders, insomnia, hysteria, fear, and depression.
Tinnitus is a physical condition that manifests as noises or ringing in a person’s ears or head in the absence of external physical noise. Technically, tinnitus is not a disease but more of a symptom that is linked to a person’s auditory system, specifically the ears and the brain.
Tinnitus and Neck Trauma
Can a neck problem cause tinnitus? Yes, it is possible. Clinically speaking, this condition is referred to as cervical tinnitus. There have been medically reported cases where whistling and ringing in the ears have been perceived in conjunction with the presence of cervical pain and neck problems.
To diagnose tinnitus, the ears will be examined visually and a hearing test will be performed. During the hearing test, an audiologist will transmit sounds through a set of headphones and the patient will be instructed to respond to certain tones or spoken instructions by pushing a button or raising their hand.
Is tinnitus a serious condition?
While tinnitus is often referred to as a symptom rather than a disease, it can be a serious health concern if not addressed appropriately. In extreme cases, tinnitus may occur with headaches, seizures, and blurred vision. We highly suggest that as soon as you notice the onset of tinnitus-like symptoms, set an appointment with an audiologist to get a tinnitus evaluation.
There are various treatment methods available to help tinnitus patients find relief. The treatments will depend on what’s causing the tinnitus, so an accurate diagnosis is key. Cary Audiology offers tinnitus evaluations so we can assess the severity of your tinnitus and look into the symptoms and how the condition impedes your daily activities.
Based on the tinnitus evaluation, we can make the following recommendations:
Address the problem
If tinnitus is caused by an ototoxic medicine, earwax buildup, or infection, we can recommend the proper course of action to resolve the issue. If tinnitus is caused by ototoxic medications, alternative medications may be prescribed. If the problem is due to earwax buildup, it can be addressed by professional earwax removal. If tinnitus is caused by an infection, antibiotics may be prescribed.
Behavioral Therapy for Tinnitus
Behavioral therapy may also help address the varying emotions that people may experience with tinnitus, which could range from anxiety to anger.
Hearing aids for Tinnitus
Hearing aids can help address tinnitus even in the absence of hearing loss. Some hearing aids can be equipped with tinnitus-masking features that can offer relief from disturbing noise.
White noise machines
If tinnitus tends to be more prominent during nighttime, a white noise machine may be recommended. White noise machines can produce steady sounds to mask tinnitus noises.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
Tinnitus retraining therapy is designed to help people with tinnitus find relief by retraining their minds to block out tinnitus and hear certain tones instead. These tones or sounds can help ease the symptoms caused by tinnitus.
Is there any research being done on tinnitus?
In one of the largest clinical trials for tinnitus, researchers found that combining sound and electrical stimulation of the tongue can significantly reduce tinnitus. The therapeutic effects have also shown efficacy 12 months after receiving treatment. While this research has some very encouraging results toward achieving a cure for tinnitus, it still has a long way to go until it can be used for all tinnitus patients.
Since tinnitus greatly affects hearing and auditory function, it only makes sense that one of the best ways to prevent tinnitus is by using hearing protection. Protecting the ears from loud noises – especially sounds above the 85-decibel limit- is one of the best ways to prevent tinnitus. While there is still no known cure for tinnitus, generally taking care of your ears and protecting the integrity of your hearing can help lower your risk of acquiring tinnitus.
Tinnitus Evaluations and Treatment in Cary, NC
If you suspect that you or a loved one has tinnitus, it is highly recommended to set an appointment with an audiologist to be evaluated. Our team at Cary Audiology is trained to identify the cause of your tinnitus and recommend necessary treatment or therapies.
Contact us today to schedule an appointment!