What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is any kind of persistent noise that doesn’t have any external source, and seems to originate in the ear or head. Many patients perceive it as an unpleasant high pitched ringing, shrieking or whistling noise, a sound like crickets, buzzing, wooshing – like the sound of loud wind – or as a hissing sound. Others hear a percussive clicking or a sound associated with their own heartbeat, a condition called pulsatile tinnitus.
Generally, the sound is one that only the patient can hear. When tinnitus can only be heard by the patient, it is called subjective tinnitus, which is by far the most common type of tinnitus. Much rarer is objective tinnitus, or tinnitus that other people can also sometimes hear. Tinnitus isn’t a disease itself, but rather a symptom that can be caused by dozens of different diseases and conditions, both physical and mental. Most people will experience tinnitus at least once in their lives as a temporary condition that resolves on its own.
For those whose tinnitus is chronic, it can be a debilitating condition that adversely affects everyday activities like concentrating on work or falling asleep at night. Many people with tinnitus suffer from depression and anxiety caused by their condition. Abut six percent of the world population experiences or has experienced severe tinnitus, making tinnitus
What Are Some Other Names for Tinnitus?
Many people do not recognize the word “tinnitus,” but will refer to the condition as “ringing in the ears” or similar descriptions of the condition. In fact, the word tinnitus derives from the Latin “tinnire,” which means “to ring.” Tinnitus is pronounced as either ti-NIGHT-us or TIN-it-us.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be caused by problems in any part of the ear, as well as occasionally by damage to the brain. However, the most common cause of tinnitus by far is hearing loss. As people grow older, or when they do damage to their ears (often by listening to loud music or working in extremely noisy environments without ear protection) the cochlea can lose its ability to transmit sounds to the brain.
Scientists believe that, in the absence of information coming in from the ears, the brain becomes “confused” and begins producing its own sounds to replace the sound that should be coming in from the ears. This type of subjective tinnitus is usually experienced in both ears. The people most often affected by tinnitus are older people, particularly older men, and people who have continuously been exposed to loud noises without ear protection, such as soldiers, construction workers, and people who have worked around jet engines.
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Additional Types of Causes
Certain diseases that affect the inner ear, such as Menier’s syndrome, and overexposure to certain drugs and chemicals, such as Aspirin, can also lead to damage that causes tinnitus. The condition can be aggravated by anything that hinders normal hearing, such as a buildup of earwax, further exposure to loud noises etc. Subjective tinnitus can also very rarely be caused by a brain tumor, though this type of tinnitus is usually only perceived in one ear, rather than in both.
Causes of objective tinnitus are usually easier to find that causes of subjective tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus can be caused by several different conditions that affect blood pressure, including pregnancy, anemia and certain types of tumors. Clicking sounds in the ear can also be caused by a misaligned jaw joint, also known as “TMJ,” or by muscle twitches near the ear or throat.
How is Tinnitus Prevented?
The best way to reduce your chances of developing tinnitus is to avoid exposure to loud noises that can do damage to the sensitive nerves in the inner ear. Anyone who is serious about wanting to avoid inner ear damage should wear ear plugs or hearing protective devices when around loud noises, such as firearms, motorcycle engines or wood shop equipment.
How is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
As tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease itself, generally only the patient knows if he or she has tinnitus. A doctor can, however, diagnose most of the conditions that cause tinnitus, so anyone experiencing tinnitus for a prolonged period of time should see a doctor.
Anyone experiencing tinnitus in only one ear, tinnitus that begins very suddenly, or tinnitus that seems associated with the heart beat (pulsatile tinnitus) should see a doctor immediately, as these types of tinnitus can be symptoms of serious problems such as certain brain tumors.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are many treatments available, and the effectiveness of each depends on both the type of tinnitus and the severity of each individual case. Because there is no cure for tinnitus, many people prefer to use natural remedies to try to relieve their symptoms.
Surgical Treatments For Tinnitus
In extremely severe cases of tinnitus, surgery is sometimes an option to try to relieve the symptoms. The most severe cases of tinnitus involve the patient hearing sounds that are so loud and unpleasant that they completely disrupt the patient’s ability to lead a normal life. Cases like this are most often found in people who have suffered serious injuries to their inner ear or who are profoundly deaf.
Surgery for tinnitus involves dividing the auditory nerve, and is beneficial in about half of all cases of severe tinnitus that it is used to treat. When it fails, it is because the tinnitus is “rerouted” to reoccur within the brain itself, so that surgery cannot be used to treat it.
Pharmaceutical Treatments for Tinnitus
Many people have found that antianxiety medications such as Xanax are extremely helpful in abating symptoms of their tinnitus. In one study, more than 75% of participants found that antianxiety medication reduced their symptoms by forty percent or more.
Other people with tinnitus may be helped by anticonvulsants, which are commonly used to treat seizure disorders, antihistamines, which most people are familiar with as allergy medicines, and certain drugs used to treat heart problems. One thing that is important to remember when it comes to treating Tinnitus with drugs is that Aspirin should never be used to alleviate headaches brought on by tinnitus, as it can often make the condition worse.
Treating Tinnitus with Sound
“Masking” is a natural, safe, and often free or inexpensive way of treating tinnitus that is recommended both by many doctors and by many sufferers of tinnitus. In order to determine if sound masking will be an effective way to treat a patient’s tinnitus, there is a simple, easy test that patients can perform by themselves at home. All that the patient needs to do is turn on the bathroom faucet.
If the sound of the faucet seems to lessen or eliminate the sound of the tinnitus, then masking could be a good way for the patient to deal with their tinnutus symptoms. Masking is simply using white noise — the sound of running water, radio static, or even the sound of an electric fan — to cover up the sound of the tinnitus.
While many people find the idea counterintuitive, it might seem pointless to simply replace one sound with another, the type of sound makes a big difference. Most tinnitus sounds are high pitched, grating, and otherwise distracting and difficult to ignore, whereas soothing white noise is easy to adjust to, often to the point that someone listening to white noise will cease to hear it at all.
Ways to Mask Tinnitus
There are many different options available for people who want to mask their tinnitus. Wearable maskers are available from audiologists, who will first administer tests to determine what kind of masker is best suited for each individual. For some people with hearing loss, simply wearing a hearing aid to amplify ambient sounds is enough to improve symptoms of tinnitus. For others white noise is more effective, while for others a combination of both is necessary to mask their tinnitus.
For those who do not wish or cannot afford to see an audiologists, there are many easy do-it-yourself methods to mask tinnitus. White noise machines or nature sounds CDs, water sounds, which contain all frequencies, are excellent for masking tinnitus. The popularity of MP3 players now means that most people can bring white sounds around with them wherever they go. Simply turning on household appliances like fans, dishwashers, and radios tuned to pick up static are also excellent ways to mask tinnitus.
Treating Tinnitus with Therapy
Many people find that talk therapy is very helpful for treating their tinnitus. Often, tinnitus can become a terrible feedback look; tinnitus causes stress and anxiety, the stress and anxiety further aggravates the tinnitus etc. Although therapy cannot affect the symptoms of tinnitus per se, it can help patients to deal with their symptoms in a way that does not create the stress and anxiety that can make tinnitus worse.
Alternative Remedies for Tinnitus
Because there is no cure for tinnitus, most people who suffer from it will at one time or another try alternative ways to treat their symptoms, often in conjunction with medication, sound masking techniques or talk therapy. Many people with tinnitus have found that changes in their diet — especially eliminating certain substances such as alcohol and caffeine, which can have an effect on blood pressure — can help to alleviate the symptoms of their tinnitus.
Tonic water should also be avoided, as the quinine it contains has also been found to worsen tinnitus. Other people with tinnitus believe that certain dietary supplements, particularly gingkoba, B-12, magnesium and zinc, have been very helpful in alleviating their symptoms. Other people try to eliminate foods that contain salicylates, or chemicals similar to aspirin, which has been proven to aggravate tinnitus. Some foods that contain higher than usual amounts of salicylates are almonds, tomatoes, cherries, peaches, grapes, cucumbers, plums and wine.
Natural Stress Relieving Activities
Meditation, yoga, and biofeedback training are all excellent ways to reduce stress, improve circulation, and gain more control over one’s own body, all of which can significantly affect the severity of tinnitus symptoms and stress or anxiety related to those symptoms. Hypnosis and acupuncture have also been helpful to many people dealing with tinnitus, though they are most helpful when used by people who are already familiar and comfortable with these types of treatments.
As stress or unease is never helpful to someone who is suffering from tinnitus, it is very important that any course of treatment undertaken is one that the patient feels comfortable and happy participating in. Although there is no easy cure for tinnitus, every person who suffers from it should feel free to experiment with all of the many approaches to dealing with it until they discover what suits their own unique circumstances, and devise a course of treatment that reduces symptoms, alleviates stress, and allows him or her to lead a happy and healthy life.