All About Tinnitus
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is commonly referred to as a “ringing of the ear,” but it also appears as different sounds. The experience of tinnitus differs from person to person: the sounds have been characterized, in addition to a ringing, as a whoosh, a pop, a buzz, a clanging, a rush of air, a whistle, or a low roar.
Tinnitus is a frustrating condition that usually has no singular cause. The sounds of tinnitus may be constant or temporary, and they may affect one or both ears. The sounds may also fluctuate in volume and frequency throughout the day. Tinnitus has been linked to problems with concentration and sleep, as well as increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Prevalence of Tinnitus
Approximately 15% of adults (50 million people) experience some form of tinnitus
According to the American Tinnitus Association, an estimated “one third of all adults experience tinnitus at some point in their lives.” Temporary tinnitus may appear after exposure to loud sounds, while chronic tinnitus lasts of longer periods of time.
The US Centers for Disease control estimates that approximately 15% of adults (50 million people) experience some form of tinnitus, with about 20 million people with chronic tinnitus. An estimated 2 million experience debilitating tinnitus. Additionally, estimated 60% of veterans returning from combat zones have reported cases of both tinnitus and hearing loss. Nationwide, approximately 16 million Americans seek medical attention for tinnitus.
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
Approximately 80% to 90% of tinnitus cases go hand in hand with hearing loss. Hearing specialists believe this is due to the relationship between hearing and inner ear hair cells. Certain forms of hearing loss are caused by the damage of inner ear hair cells. Inner ear hair cells are responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals recognized by our brains as sound. When these hair cells are damaged, hearing specialists theorize that they may send phantom signals to the brain, which are registered as sound.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.
In cases of subjective tinnitus, only the person experiencing tinnitus can hear the sound. Subjective tinnitus is the more common form, making up over 99% of cases. On the other hand, making up less than 1% of tinnitus cases, the sounds of objective tinnitus can be heard by people who are in close physical proximity to the person experiencing tinnitus.
Objective tinnitus is often categorized as pulsatile tinnitus, caused by the increased blood flow in the head and inner ear area that synchronizes with one’s heartbeat. Another form of objective tinnitus is somatic tinnitus, in which one’s blood flow or muscle spasms create body noises.
Causes of Tinnitus
If you are experiencing tinnitus, come visit us at Gavin Audiology. We’ll take a look in your ear canals first. In some cases, the cause may be obvious due to impacted earwax. The removal of this blockage could eliminate tinnitus.
In other instances, tinnitus may appear as a symptom of ear diseases such as Meniere’s disease, which affects the level of fluid in the inner ear. Tinnitus may also appear as a side effect of certain ototoxic medications – “poisonous to the ear” – which lead to the damage of inner ear hair cells. These medications include but are not limited to certain classes of anticancer chemotherapy medications, diuretics, and antibiotics. Speak to your medical doctor if you believe your medication may be causing tinnitus or hearing loss.
Other causes of tinnitus include exposure to loud noises in a single event or over a long period of time. Injury or trauma to the head, neck, and throat area, as well as tumors, infections, and hormonal changes may all potentially cause tinnitus. Because tinnitus often appears as a symptom of another condition, whether it is disease or hearing loss, the causes are not abundantly clear.
Though there is no definitive cure for tinnitus, there are treatments available to alleviate the condition.
If tinnitus is linked to any of the above medical conditions, treating the underlying causes may alleviate the tinnitus. This includes removing impacted earwax, changing medications, or treating tumors and constricted blood vessels with medication or surgery.
As tinnitus and hearing loss often appear together, many hearing aid manufacturers offer devices equipped with tinnitus treatment in the form of sound therapy. These therapies include white noise generators or other soothing synthetic tones to “mask” the symptoms of tinnitus. Certain manufacturers offer tinnitus therapy programs which include exercises to retrain the brain and relaxation exercises to aid falling asleep.