Tinnitus can be an overwhelming symptom to experience. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 50 million people experience some degree of tinnitus and 20 million live with chronic tinnitus. Tinnitus describes hearing a specific sound in one or both ears that only you can hear. This sound is most often described as a ringing, buzzing, clicking, or whistling like noise that can be mild or more pronounced.
Tinnitus can come and go or be chronic. This not only disrupts sleep, but it also prevents you from focusing and completing daily tasks with ease, makes it harder to hear, as well as produces fatigue and irritability. According to the Hearing Health Foundation, 16 million people seek medical attention for tinnitus annually. If you experience tinnitus, it is important to know that there are effective ways you can manage it.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition and is not a medical condition itself. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that there are nearly 200 medical conditions that can trigger tinnitus. A few of the most common causes include:
- Hearing Loss: nearly 1 in 5 people have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss is a medical condition that reduces one’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. It most often occurs when sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged. This results in the brain receiving less auditory information. Not only does this cause hearing loss but it produces a range of symptoms including tinnitus.
- Inner Ear Disorders: there are different types of inner ear disorders that can activate tinnitus. This includes Meniere’s disease which happens when fluid accumulates in the cochlea. This produces pressure, inflammation, dizziness as well as tinnitus.
- Head Injuries: the CDC estimates that over 3 million head injuries occur every year. Trauma to the head can have various effects on overall health and mobility. Head injuries can damage the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing – and produce various symptoms like tinnitus.
- Ear Obstructions: these are factors that prevent soundwaves from being absorbed and traveling through the ear canal to reach the inner ear. Ear obstruction includes earwax that has accumulated in the ear canal, a perforated eardrum, bone growths etc. This can cause hearing loss as well as trigger tinnitus.
Additional causes of tinnitus include: temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ), specific medical conditions like autoimmune disorders, hyperthyroidism, as well as specific medications.
How is tinnitus managed?
There are many ways that tinnitus can be managed. It is important to work with your hearing healthcare provider who can help you develop a management plan. The following strategies can alleviate tinnitus, providing sustainable relief.
- Treat hearing loss: the first step is to have your hearing health evaluated. Hearing tests are painless and noninvasive, involving a process that measures hearing capacities in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss and the degree of impairment you are experiencing. If you do have hearing loss, your hearing healthcare provider will tailor treatment to meet your specific needs. Hearing aids are the most common treatment- these are electronic devices that are designed to absorb and process speech as well as sound. This provides significant support, alleviating hearing loss symptoms including tinnitus. Hearing aids also offer tinnitus management features which are designed to specifically target and reduce tinnitus.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy: a type of sound therapy, TRT involves training the brain to de-prioritize tinnitus. Using a process known as habituation, TRT consists of experiencing tinnitus while also hearing low levels of white noise repeatedly. Over time, the brain can associate these sounds, meaning that tinnitus can be perceived as mundane background noise. We do this with sounds like fans, a/c units, traffic etc.
- Manage stress: stress can worsen tinnitus so it is useful to manage stress effectively. You can do this by increasing physical activity, engaging in de-stressing activities like yoga, taking a daily walk, engaging in therapy etc.
- Boost sleep: tinnitus often takes a toll on sleep and lack of sleep can worsen tinnitus. A helpful way to break this cycle is to put more energy and effort into getting quality sleep. You can try the following strategies: avoid screens at least 30 minutes prior to sleeping, adjust lighting, take a warm shower, and invest in comfortable bedding. Establish a night time routine etc.
Contact us today to learn more about managing tinnitus effectively and the resources available to support you!