Tinnitus is known commonly as “ringing of the ears.” It is a condition in which a person hears a sound without the stimulus from an external source. Tinnitus appears differently depending on the person: a rush of air, a clicking, cracking, pop, whistling, or in some rare cases, music. Tinnitus might be temporary, lasting as little as a minute or two, or it could be chronic, which lasts for days and weeks.
Approximately 10% of adults in the US experience tinnitus. An estimated 60% of veterans returning from combat zones report cases of tinnitus, as well as hearing loss.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.
Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus, comprising 99% of cases. Only the person who experiences the phantom sound can hear it with subjective tinnitus.
Objective tinnitus is rare, comprising less than 1% of reported cases. With objective tinnitus, both the person who experiences tinnitus and sitting nearby can hear the sound.
The Link Between Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
The Hearing Health Foundation estimates that 90% of tinnitus cases occur with an underlying hearing loss. Tinnitus and hearing loss share similarities: age-related hearing loss and noise-induced hearing loss are caused by damage to inner ear hair cells. Damage to inner ear hair cells could also lead to tinnitus. Researchers have suggested that when these cells are damaged, they send phantom signals to the brain to be registered as sound. This sound is what we recognize as tinnitus.
Problems with the ear bone and earwax blockage in the ear canal may lead to hearing loss as well as tinnitus. Certain classes of drugs, ranging from antibiotics to chemotherapy treatment medication, have damaged inner ear hair cells, thus leading to hearing loss and tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a frustrating condition, especially for people who experience chronic tinnitus. The ongoing tinnitus sound accompanies them from morning until night. It could affect one’s sleep patterns and increase irritability, memory problems, concentration, and productivity. Tinnitus has been found to increase stress, anxiety, and depression.
More often than not, tinnitus is the symptom of a related medical problem. Causes of tinnitus include impacted earwax, ear infection, tumors, circulation disorders, Meniere’s disease, or ototoxic medication. Searching for the underlying cause and addressing it may relieve the tinnitus itself.
There is no definitive cure for tinnitus, although treating related medical issues and addressing hearing loss often alleviate tinnitus symptoms. Here are some common treatments for tinnitus.
Sound therapy: This treatment attempts to disguise the tinnitus noise. Overactive brain cells are distracted by the masking sound produced by wearable or external ear devices. Maskers are both safe and effective. More impulses are sent across the remaining connections between the ear and the brain, momentarily compensating for the lost ones.
Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT): This is a kind of treatment that seeks to retrain your brain’s response to tinnitus so that you begin to tune out the sound and become less aware of it. The treatment consists of a mix of rigorous sound therapy and long-term counseling.
Hearing aid tinnitus solutions: Hearing aid manufacturers have included tinnitus therapy as the main feature due to the prevalence and hearing loss. In cases where tinnitus and hearing loss are simultaneously experienced, the use of a hearing aid with built-in tinnitus therapy provides relief. These devices amplify hearing, reduce background noise, improve speech recognition, and mask tinnitus sounds. Since tinnitus commonly appears with hearing loss, treating tinnitus with a hearing aid can effectively reduce or mask the sounds. Some even allow you to customize your tinnitus treatment during the fitting stage of your hearing aids. Others allow you to control your tinnitus therapy easily on your smartphone, choose from a wide variety of masking sounds and adjust the experience to meet your specific needs.
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