What Is Tinnitus?

If you were to ask someone what Trent Reznor, Ronald Reagan and Whoopi Goldberg have in common, they’d be hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Yet, these celebrities are all affected by tinnitus, which is a condition that causes a person to hear a sound that is generated by their body. For some people, the sound is constant while others report hearing it only in certain situations. Understanding what tinnitus is and how it can be treated is the first step toward finding relief from the irritation that comes with being unable to escape the constant ringing in your ears.

Causes of Tinnitus

Most cases of tinnitus begin when the sensory hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear become lost or damaged. Sometimes this occurs due to normal aging, but the process of loss can be hastened by other risk factors. Health conditions that affect the middle and inner ears can also cause tinnitus such as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ) and neck injuries. Diabetes complications can also affect the nerves that stimulate hearing, and people with traumatic brain injuries may process sound differently that leading to ringing in the ears.

Risk Factors For Developing the Condition

There’s a good reason why celebrities tend to be affected by tinnitus. Excessive exposure to noise is one of the leading causes. In addition to loud concerts, working with explosives or loud construction equipment places you at risk for damage to your ears that can cause the symptoms. Aging is another risk factor, and people over the age of 60 are more likely to deal with tinnitus. Men tend to be affected more often than women, and certain lifestyle factors such as smoking contribute to the development of the condition. Obstructions in the ear can sometimes cause symptoms of tinnitus, and people with certain medical conditions or who take ototoxic medications are more likely to develop tinnitus.

Symptoms of Tinnitus

Hearing ringing in the ears is the hallmark symptom that most people associate with tinnitus. However, it can manifest in other ways. For example, some people hear other noises such as whistling, clicking and buzzing. In some instances, people have described hearing music or low roar. The sound sensations may be high or low pitched, and it can come and go or be constant. For the majority of sufferers, hearing loss is also present. Over time, psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression may affect those who struggle with coping with the symptoms that they experience on a constant basis.

Types of Tinnitus

There are two types of tinnitus, and they are objective and subjective. Subjective tinnitus is the most common type. With this type, a person hears sounds that are only perceived by themselves. Objective tinnitus involves a person hearing noises that are generated by their circulatory or musculo-skeletal movement systems, and these noises can be heard by other people. However, the objective type of tinnitus is so rare that it is estimated that less than 1% of the population has it.

Tests Used For Diagnosis

When a person complains of noises in their ear, there are several things physicians will do to get an accurate diagnosis. Usually, they will begin by asking a series of questions regarding when the noises began and whether they are constant or intermittent. The questions will also involve a person’s health history to determine if risk factors such as damage to the ears has occurred. A physical exam of a person’s ears, head and neck will also be performed to check for abnormalities, and a hearing test will be given. If necessary, blood tests to check for underlying health conditions such as diabetes along with imaging may also be performed before a physician is confident making an accurate diagnosis.

Types of Treatment Available

Unfortunately, there is not a cure for tinnitus. Although, there is some hope because it can get better with tinnitus treatment, and some people find that their symptoms spontaneously disappear on their own. It is also possible to slowly get used to the noise and be able to tune it out. For those who have constant noise or find it frustrating to deal with every day, there are treatments that can help. Sound therapy is one type of treatment that involves using other more pleasant noises to mask the ringing sound. Retraining therapy is another common treatment that people use to train their mind to accept the noises caused by tinnitus as normal rather than annoying. These two types of treatment are commonly used when there is not an obvious underlying cause of the tinnitus that can be treated in other ways such as adjusting a person’s medication.

Dealing with tinnitus may not make you feel like a celebrity, but it helps to know that you are not alone. Today, many people deal with frustrating symptoms such as ringing and buzzing that no one else can hear, and it is possible to learn how to cope. By understanding the various causes of tinnitus and seeking a treatment that works for you, it is possible to move on and enjoy life without focusing on that constant buzz.