Tinnitus describes hearing a specific noise in the ears when no external sound is actually present. This sound is most commonly described as a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise in one or both ears. According to the Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), 25 million adults report experiencing tinnitus and 16 million seek medical attention for it annually. Tinnitus can be experienced infrequently or chronically which can take a toll on daily life by affecting sleep, ability to concentrate, complete tasks etc. Tinnitus is not a condition itself but rather, a symptom of an underlying health issue. So it is incredibly important to have this evaluated so contributing health issues can be identified and treated!
What Causes Tinnitus?
Several underlying health issues can trigger tinnitus. This includes the following:
- Hearing Loss: the most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, a permanent medical condition that impacts an estimated 48 million people. The HHF estimates that 90% of tinnitus cases result from hearing loss.
- Exposure to Loud Noise: one time or consistent exposure to loud noise can activate tinnitus. Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which help translate soundwaves into electrical signals for the brain to process; enabling us to understand what we hear. Noise that exceeds 85 decibels (the equivalent of busy city traffic) is potentially hazardous for hearing health. Loud noise can cause hair cells to lose sensitivity and/or die and because these cells do not regenerate, this causes permanent damage.
- Existing Medical Conditions: including hypertension, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease increase the risk of experiencing tinnitus.
- Buildup of Earwax: an accumulation of earwax in the ear canal can lead to excess bacteria which leads to ear infections, triggering tinnitus.
- Head Injuries: experiencing extreme force to the head (car accidents, falls, contact sports etc.) can produce swelling and/or bleeding that impacts the auditory system.
A 2019 study showed that almost 70% of people with tinnitus also experience poor sleep as a result of it. Lack of sleep not only impacts mood, concentration, and wellness but can contribute to (or exacerbate) sleep disorders. This can really affect daily life and health so it is important to address tinnitus symptoms!
Tips to Effectively Manage Tinnitus
There are useful ways you can manage tinnitus, reducing its impact on health and wellness. A few tips include:
- Hearing Test: hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus so it is important to have your hearing tested. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be experiencing. Treating hearing loss can significantly alleviate tinnitus.
- Reduce Stress: stress is a major way that tinnitus is exacerbated. Identifying stressors and ways to destress is useful. This can include engaging in calming activities like yoga, breathing exercises, taking walks etc. to work through stress and improve breathing.
- Use Ambient Noise: being in quiet spaces can amplify tinnitus by shifting your focus on it (making it feel louder). A helpful way to deal with this is to create ambient noise which distracts from tinnitus. This can include using a white noise machine, playing soft sounds in the background, leaving the TV on etc.
- Wear Protective Gear: including earmuffs, earplugs, headphones etc. serve as a protective barrier for the ears. This kind of gear reduces the amount and the impact of loud noise that you absorb. Wearing protective gear not only reduces the risk of developing hearing loss but also the experience of tinnitus.
- Enhance Sleep: tinnitus can take a toll on sleep and the lack of sleep can worsen tinnitus. This cycle can deeply affect daily life so a useful way to intervene is by practicing ways to enhance your sleep. This can include creating a sleep routine, sleeping and waking at the same time, ensuring your bedding is comfortable, adjusting lighting, avoiding screens at least 30 minutes prior to sleeping, engaging in winding down activities etc.
- Increase Physical Activity: this is a great way to destress, boost your energy, as well as mood which enhances sleep and can alleviate tinnitus.