What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus, which is often referred to as a “ringing of the ears,” causes people to hear sounds without an external auditory stimulus. These sounds have been described as pops, white noise, whistles, bursts of air, whistling, roaring, buzzing, and indeed, ringing. Tinnitus could last just for a few seconds (temporary) or over extended periods of time (chronic).


Prevalence of Tinnitus

According to the American Tinnitus Association, approximately 15% of Americans “experience tinnitus, often to a debilitating degree, making it one of the most common health conditions in the country.” Of this number, 20 million Americans experience chronic tinnitus, with 2 million experiencing debilitating cases. Additionally, an estimated 60% of veterans experience tinnitus (and hearing loss) due to exposure to loud sounds during combat.


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Types and Causes of Tinnitus

There are two forms of tinnitus: subjective and objective.
With subjective tinnitus, only the person who experiences tinnitus hears the sounds. Making up more than 99% of the cases, subjective tinnitus is the most common form of the condition. Subjective tinnitus may be caused by: sensorineural hearing loss due to damage of inner ear hair cells (aging, exposure to loud noise, and even certain classes of ototoxic medication); Meniere’s disease; impacted earwax; or another related medical condition.

Making up less than 1% of cases, objective tinnitus is a rare condition. People with objective tinnitus hear the sounds, but other people in their proximity can also hear the tinnitus sounds. One form of objective tinnitus is pulsatile tinnitus, in which the rhythm of the tinnitus is matches one’s heartbeat. More often than not, cases of objective tinnitus are linked to cardiovascular or muscular problems of the body.

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Effects of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a frustrating condition that causes much discomfort for people who suffer from it. The experience of on-going noises, which are uncontrollable to the person who has tinnitus, can negatively impact almost every area of their life.

Tinnitus could increase rates of depression, stress, anxiety, and sleep deprivation; it has also been linked to productivity, memory problems, the ability to concentrate, and fatigue. Furthermore, tinnitus point to related medical issues, such as high blood pressure or musculo-skeletal problems. In chronic cases, tinnitus could have detrimental effects on one’s emotional well-being, interfering with social interaction and employment.

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Tinnitus and Medical Issues

Tinnitus is often the symptom of a related medical issue. In searching for a treatment for tinnitus, your hearing specialist may determine that there are other underlying medical causes of the condition, such as ototoxic medication, ear infection, tumors, impacted earwax, circulatory problems, Meniere’s disease, or injury to the head/neck area.


Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Tinnitus and hearing loss both interfere with one’s ability to hear and often occur in tandem. An estimated 80% of cases of sensorineural hearing loss are accompanied with tinnitus. Researchers believe that the causes of sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus may be linked. Damage to the inner ear hair cells, which are responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals that are registered in our brains as sound, may lead to both hearing loss and tinnitus. Some specialists speculate that damaged inner ear hair cells may “leak” sounds, thus leading to the “phantom” sounds emitted by tinnitus.

Unlike hearing loss, however, tinnitus has no objective measures. In testing for tinnitus, your hearing professional will ask you a series of questions in order to determine the underlying conditions that cause your tinnitus. However, in most cases, the exact cause of tinnitus cannot be determined. As a result, there is no singular cure for tinnitus. Fortunately, there are treatment options available.

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Tinnitus Treatment

If tinnitus is linked to related medical issues, the treatment of those issues could alleviate or eliminate tinnitus.

In other cases, where there is no definitive cause, tinnitus is treatable but may not be completely eliminated. Hearing aid manufacturers have produced effective tinnitus treatments, through sound therapy features available on hearing aids or standalone devices. Hearing aids with tinnitus therapy support hearing health by amplifying sound, reducing background noise, improving speech recognition, and also masking the sounds of tinnitus with customizable synthetic tones (nature sounds, white noise, etc.).

If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is important to seek treatment. In some instances, your tinnitus may be linked to hearing loss. For better hearing health – and overall health, contact us at Audio Advantage Hearing Aid Center for a consultation.

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Hebron MD

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Salisbury MD

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