If you have ever found yourself in a quiet place and noticed a haze of sound that remains, it is possible that you might have tinnitus. This very common experience affects somewhere between 15 and 20 percent of people, though it is difficult to measure a precise number.
Those who have tinnitus might think of it as a condition, but in fact it is more precisely a symptom of another underlying condition. The most common form of tinnitus is related to age-related hearing loss, whereby the tiny hair-like cells of the inner ear are broken, bent, or damaged over time.
Although most people with tinnitus can trace the cause to hearing loss, other causes are as varied as cardiovascular issues, medication, or injury. Let’s look at the basics of tinnitus, including the symptoms, underlying causes, and the possible forms of treatment.
What is tinnitus?
Although it is most commonly referred to as a “ringing” in the ears, a variety of sounds can be persistent and do not have their origin in an environmental sound. With the sensation of sound seeming to come from within the ears, a person with tinnitus knows that the cause is somehow related to the body or the process of audio processing. The more rare form of tinnitus—objective tinnitus—arises from a problem in or nearby the ear that a hearing health professional can actually hear, such as a problem in the blood vessels, bones, or muscles of the middle ear.
The more common form of tinnitus exists only the pathway from the inner ear to the brain, otherwise known as subjective tinnitus. Something that is damaged in that pathway creates the sensation of sound only perceptible to the individual. A wide range of underlying conditions can cause tinnitus, including something as simple as earwax blockage or something as serious as a cardiovascular condition.
It is important to seek medical attention immediately if you have a sudden onset of tinnitus, as opposed to the more common experience of a slow gradual increase, or if your tinnitus symptoms are associated with dizziness or sudden hearing loss.
Other causes of tinnitus include medication, including antibiotics, antidepressants, or even aspirin. If you find an increase in your tinnitus associated with taking a new medication, consult with your doctor and take a look at the list of possible side effects that are associated.
Preventing and Treating Tinnitus
In order to prevent the most common form of tinnitus that arises from age-related hearing loss, hearing protection is the best approach. By wearing earplugs in loud environments, particularly when that loud sound is sustained for a period of time, you can not only preserve your hearing ability but also prevent tinnitus from taking over.
Earbuds and headphones are causes of hearing damage and tinnitus that are commonly misunderstood, and people can inflict permanent damage if these devices are played at too loud a level for too long a time. Particularly when you find yourself in a loud environment such as during transportation or while riding the lawnmower, it is possible to add the sound of the headphones to the already-loud sound of the machine, combining to a damaging effect.
Take care not only with the volume of these devices but also how long they are in use. It is quite possible to wear headphones or earbuds for an extended period while watching a movie or playing a video game.
If you already have tinnitus, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce the effect. Many people find relief from masking the sound of tinnitus with other sounds, particularly something with a broad frequency range. White noise generators are available on the market, as are nature sound simulators that create the effect of ocean waves or a vibrant forest. Those who have trouble sleeping can find relief from the sound of a television or a box fan.
However, if you need to deal with tinnitus in a variety of contexts, the latest hearing aids make it possible to project a tone that would effectively mask the sound of tinnitus. Contact us today if you are interested in learning more about hearing aids and technology that are available for tinnitus treatment.