We have all heard it at some point in our lives: that ringing, buzzing, or hissing in our ears. For some it only happens after they have left a noisy environment (e.g., a rock concert), and it gradually fades away over the next day or two. For others it can be constant. For most people, even those with normal hearing, this sound will come and go and never cause a disruption in their lives. For others, it can become such a problem that they seek help for it. What is this sound, and why does it happen?
Tinnitus is the term for the perception of sound in the head even when there is no sound coming from the environment. It can be heard in one ear or both ears, or it can seem like it is centered in the middle of the head. Offering a very individualized experience, tinnitus is often described by sufferers in many different ways (ringing, buzzing, whirring, roaring, etc.). It is like a fingerprint; no two people have the exact same tinnitus.
What causes tinnitus?
There are many factors that can cause tinnitus, and most also cause hearing loss. Some may be medically correctable, while others may require alternative treatment solutions such as sound therapy or relaxation techniques. Starting from the outside of the ear working in, tinnitus may be caused when something puts pressure on the eardrum, such as fluid from an ear infection or even impacted earwax. The most common place for tinnitus to occur is in the inner ear, or the cochlea, when the microscopic cells that are responsible for sending sound from the hearing nerve to our brain are damaged. Reasons for this damage may be hearing loss due to age, noise exposure, head injury, inner-ear diseases, blood-flow issues in the body, and toxic medications. More serious conditions that occur beyond the cochlea are rare.
Though there is a variety of advertising describing various remedies to rid yourself of tinnitus, keep in mind that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment. What works for one person may not work for another. Just like our hearing system, and the brain as a whole, tinnitus is extremely complex. There are ways, however, to protect yourself. Because noise exposure is a common cause, tinnitus can be prevented by using good judgment around loud sounds. This is especially true in the summer when being around loud sounds is considered necessary or even fun (i.e., mowing the lawn, using power tools, attending concerts, playing loud music in the car, watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, etc.). Protection can include keeping a safe distance away from a noise source, turning down volume (if you can), and/or wearing appropriate hearing protection.
We can help
If you or someone you know has bothersome tinnitus and would like more information, please contact your local AudigyCertified™ practice and make an appointment to speak with a tinnitus specialist. Don’t suffer in silence.