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Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Contributed by , associate editor for Healthy Hearing

Tinnitus is often described as “ringing in the ears” and is the medical term to explain the perception of sound in one or two ears when no sound is actually present. According to a national health study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50 million individuals in the United States suffer from tinnitus to some degree. Nearly one-third of them find it so debilitating they seek medical attention for the ringing in their ears. 

While there’s no proven cure for tinnitus, by better understanding the symptoms, causes, relief and related illnesses, it is possible to develop treatments to help ease or block out the ringing-in-the-ears sensation.

Symptoms of tinnitus

Described as a ringing-in-the-ears or fullness-of-the-head sensation, these are the two most common symptoms of tinnitus in an individual. The noise can range from a ringing, buzzing, hissing or whizzing sound and can change from a soft pitch, to a higher, louder frequency. Additionally, tinnitus can impact one or both ears and can remain constant or come and go. In more severe cases, the ringing in the ears is loud enough to interfere with daily activity, whereas individuals with mild cases of tinnitus experience a lower, duller sound.

Individuals with tinntius may experience discomfort or anxiety.
Individuals with tinntius may experience
discomfort or anxiety.

Tinnitus is commonly seen in adults, but can affect individuals in any age group. In addition to perceiving a noise that doesn’t exist, individuals with tinnitus may experience discomfort, lack of sleep and an inability to live life due to the condition. Anxiety also is a common symptom of tinnitus, as it can sometimes interfere with work or other stressful situations. Individuals with tinnitus also may complain of hearing clicking or sharp sounds; rushing or humming noises or continuous low-pitch noises.

Causes of tinnitus

With so many individuals suffering from tinnitus, it’s important to investigate what causes the ringing sensation. While many cases of tinnitus still remain undiagnosed, there are some common causes which are known to aggravate the condition:

  • Age: Around the age of 60, your hearing tends to worsen. This slight loss of hearing can cause tinnitus, which is referred to as presbycusis.
  • Loud noise exposure: Being exposed to loud noise on a regular basis from heavy equipment, chain saws or fire arms are common causes of tinnitus. However, anyone can have common exposure to loud noises by listening to music in headphones on a regular basis or attending live music performances frequently.
  • Unhealthy habits: Researchers are not entirely certain why, but drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, eating certain foods and consuming caffeinated beverages can play a role in tinnitus.
  • Common ailments: Having anemia, allergies, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, diabetes and an underactive thyroid gland are all medical conditions that can lead to tinnitus.

Relief from tinnitus

Healthy Hearing Tip
Many people find improving their health overall helps comfort tinnitus symptoms. This means controlling your blood pressure, reducing stress and decreasing caffeine consumptions.

Often individuals with tinnitus view their suffering as a commonality, a part of everyday life. Because many cases of tinnitus aren’t severe enough for people to seek medical treatment, they turn to finding relief in common, nonmedical varieties. While many of these vary from person to person, there are some remedies known to help ease the ringing in the ears sensation.

Many people find improving their health overall helps comfort tinnitus symptoms. This means controlling your blood pressure, reducing stress and decreasing caffeine consumptions. Because some of these items stimulate your body’s systems, it’s also possible that these encourage tinnitus to flare up as well.

Individuals also try to follow relaxation techniques to help cope with and balance the tinnitus symptoms. These types of relief involve muscle relaxation and visualization.

Treatment for tinnitus

Because there’s no proven cure for tinnitus, doctors have worked over the years to develop treatments which help make tinnitus easier to ignore or relives some of its symptoms. Noise suppression devices are commonly used to help combat the ringing-in-the-ears sensation. A masking device is worn in the ear and produces a constant, soft noise to reduce the ringing or whistling feeling in the ear. Hearing aids also are used as tinnitus solutions. These train wearers to not focus on the tinnitus sounds.

Another treatment option is called tinnitus retaining therapy and is designed to teach the patient to ignore the background ringing noise in the ear. Often a white noise generator is used and creates environmental sounds so override the tinnitus sounds.

Meniere’s Disease

Dizziness can feel like you're on a merry-go-round and can't get off.
Dizziness can feel like you're on a merry-go-round
and can't get off.

Meniere’s disease isn’t directly connected to tinnitus, but often individuals with this condition experience many symptoms or temporary ringing in the ears. Meniere's disease is an inner ear disease that typically only affects one ear. This disease can cause pressure or pain in the ear, severe cases of dizziness or vertigo and a ringing or roaring noise. While Meniere’s isn’t fully understood yet, it appears that several relief options for tinnitus also assist individuals with this disease. Caffeine consumption should be decreased, in addition to salt intake, and stress should be reduced.

BPPV

BPPV, or benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, is a common form of balance disturbance that originates in the inner ear. Individuals suffering from BBPV, sometimes referred to as “positional vertigo,” can experience a brief, but intense spinning sensation that generally occurs when they get out of bed or turn their head too quickly. Fortunately, BPPV is usually the result of a head condition and only lasts for a few short days, resolving itself once the body has returned to normal. BPPV can have a high recurrence rate, so a physician may be able to recommend positions, exercises and therapies which can help reduce the likelihood.

Dizziness

Many people don’t realize the organ which helps us balance is located in the inner ear and it partners with other systems in the body to allow us to remain stable and retain our sense of balance. Dizziness happens when there is a deficit in the balance organ in the inner ear, the visual system, the muscles and joints in the body or the brain centers that tie them all together.

Dizziness related to the inner ear is one of the most common types and it results from disturbances in the blood circulation or fluid pressure in the inner ear, pressure on the balance nerve or physiologic changes in the balance nerve. The dizziness can feel similar to vertigo or can make an individual feel nauseated or sick to their stomach.

Treatments for dizziness can vary depending on the cause, but can usually be subsided with dietary or lifestyle changes, medication or retraining therapies.

References

  1. ATA’s Top 10 Most Frequently Asked Questions, American Tinnitus Association, http://www.ata.org/for-patients/faqs

This content was last reviewed on: June 10th, 2014

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