Tinnitus affects approximately 15 million Americans. For each sufferer, the symptoms may vary from whistling sounds to ringing, from buzzing sounds to ticking, and it can present itself as intermittent sounds or a non-stop noise from several months to many years.
I often receive questions about tinnitus from patients, so I’ve compiled the most common questions, which I will answer in this blog.
Q. What exactly is tinnitus?
A. Tinnitus is when you hear sounds that don’t really exist. Patients will describe a ringing, buzzing, whooshing, ticking, or humming noise – and sometimes they can hear a combination of these sounds.
Q. How does someone get tinnitus?
A. Frequent exposure to loud noises is a very common case. Other causes can include earwax, hearing loss, stress, medications, head injuries, and other neurological diseases. Patients with vertigo or ear pressure may also experience tinnitus.
Rest assured, tinnitus is not an illness in itself, but a symptom of something else. Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t cause deafness, although people with hearing loss may experience tinnitus – even if they are completely deaf.
While it can be disruptive to your sleep and general well-being, the good news is that 50% of suffers do find that their tinnitus does taper off with time.
Q. Are there different types?
A. Yes. There are two types – subjective and objective.
If you have subjective tinnitus, only you can hear it. This is due to a problem with your outer, middle, or inner ear. Occasionally, there can be a problem with the hearing nerves, or the brain is struggling to interpret signals as sound.
If you have objective tinnitus, then the doctor examining you can also hear what you are hearing — this a rare form requiring a longer treatment time. Causes include blood vessels located near the ear, the small bones situated in the middle ear, or muscle contractions.
Q. Is there a cure?
A. Although there’s currently no cure, you can retrain your brain to make the tinnitus less noticeable.
Sound generators, tinnitus maskers, or merely playing light music in the background can shift your concentration to something other than your tinnitus. There are many apps available that will play nature and environmental sounds, and maskers – which are worn like a hearing aid – will play you sounds at pitches different from your tinnitus.
Relaxation can calm your tinnitus when it’s roaring away. Stress and anxiety can make tinnitus worse, so taking time out to relax and rest is very important.
Some patients find biofeedback training useful, especially in stressful situations. Here, you learn a range of exercises that help you to relax your muscles. When you can reach a state of total relaxation, often your tinnitus will decrease.
One final note – if you’re currently taking medication, ask your doctor if tinnitus could be a side effect. Often just a change of prescription can make a difference. Additionally, some patients find relief with medication. Results vary from person to person, but it is certainly worth exploring further.
Q. What else I can do?
A. Well, if you smoke or consume lots of coffee, I would suggest cutting back or quitting altogether. You see, nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and they can increase your anxiety levels, which then makes your tinnitus worse.
Q. What should I do next?
A. If your tinnitus is disrupting your life, I would highly suggest an appointment. We can explore fitting you with a tinnitus masker and discuss treatment options in more detail.
Since 1986, the House of Hearing has helped over 30,000 patients achieve better hearing and, therefore, enriched lives. With 12 convenient northern Utah locations, I encourage you to contact us today to book yourself in for a hearing test. Simply click here to get started on your journey to better hearing.