Do you ever find yourself at the end of a long and busy day only to be confronted with a persistent buzz or ringing in your ears? This is tinnitus, a phantom sound in your ears that can come in many different forms including a buzz, hum, ring, roar, or even music -it’s the third most common health condition affecting seniors in the US!
If you’ve ever left a loud concert or fireworks display and experienced tinnitus it can signify hearing damage. While it may go away it doesn’t mean that the damage has corrected itself. Most tinnitus indicates permanent noise-induced hearing loss and it’s more common than you may think. According to a recent study from the University of California-Irvine, nearly one in 10 adults in the US live with tinnitus.
How Bad is Tinnitus?
It may not seem like a big deal at first. Most people with tinnitus experience it now and then but it usually dissipates and slips away to the back of your consciousness. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that “roughly 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases.” For many when tinnitus arrives it can bring on stress. It can feel inescapable. The more an individual focuses on tinnitus symptoms, the more pronounced they become. Unaddressed, tinnitus can cause chronic stress, sleep problems at night, and issues concentrating during the day.
UC-Irvine’s Study on Tinnitus
The University of California-Irvine published a 2016 report on tinnitus in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. The study collected data from 75,764 respondents over the age of 18 and based on this cohort believe that over a year, approximately one in 10 adults in the US most likely reported the experience of tinnitus. The range of severity is diverse with some cases lasting a few moments while others suffer through it for days or even weeks!
The researchers estimated that 21.4 million adults (9.6% of the population) have experienced some form of tinnitus in 2016 and of this represented population, 27% experience chronic tinnitus, including symptoms extended over 15 years. Thirty-six percent of adults with tinnitus reported constant daily symptoms, with those who reported working in noisy environments suffering at the highest rate.
What Causes Tinnitus?
No one knows what causes tinnitus, however, while not everyone with hearing loss has tinnitus, 90% of those who report tinnitus also have hearing loss. This is thought to be due to injury to the inner ear. We collect sound with our ears but listening and hearing occur in the brain. To transmit sound vibrations to the brain, tiny hairlike cells within the cochlea of the inner ear, transform vibrations into electrical pulses. These cells are called stereocilia and are the sole delivery system of sound to the brain. They can be damaged due to a wide range of causes including exposure to loud noise, impact to the head, certain chemical exposures, and even old age. Researchers believe that when the stereocilia become damaged they often may still send an involuntary signal to the brain. This is perceived as the symptom of tinnitus.
Negative Effects of Tinnitus
What could a buzz do to negatively impact your life? When it happens now and then it may be annoying or distracting. When it happens all the time it becomes an issue that must be addressed. From the UC-Irvine study, researchers reported that 7.2% of respondents said their tinnitus was a “big or very big problem,” while 42% said that their condition was a “minor problem.”
Describing tinnitus as a “big or very big problem,” meaning that users experienced tinnitus throughout the day or night without a break increasing stress and cortisol levels. Over time, this can escalate into serious issues including depression, sleep issues, and concentration issues throughout the day ultimately affecting one’s livelihood and interpersonal relationships.
While there is no cure, there are several treatments for tinnitus. Many of these focus on masking or addressing your stress response to the buzz. If tinnitus is bothering you, it could point to a serious hearing issue. Schedule a hearing exam with us today. We can help you strategize how to keep your tinnitus under control and help you hear clearly.