Do you ever hear a ringing sound that no one else seems to notice but you? Not only is this condition frustrating, but it can make it difficult to hear what others are trying to say.
That ringing in your ears is called tinnitus, and it’s more common than you might think. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, roughly 10% (25 million) of U.S. adults have experienced it for at least five minutes within the past year.
If you find yourself frequently experiencing tinnitus, you may be wondering what causes it and if there’s anything you can do to stop it. This in mind, let’s take a moment to dive in and discuss this condition, its impacts, and how it can be treated.
What is Tinnitus?
The Better Hearing Institute (BHI) describes tinnitus as “the perception of a sound that has no external source.” This condition is often described as a high-pitched ringing, buzzing, or humming sound. A person with this condition can hear these sounds in one ear or both, either intermittently or consistently.
Although it is often described as a ‘phantom sound,’ you are actually hearing something: the neural activity in your brain. Some researchers suggest that we can hear this activity when our brain’s ‘gatekeeper’ (the limbic system) breaks down, as it normally acts as a blockade between those signals and our auditory system (our ears).
But what causes this breakdown? Even when one has been diagnosed, it can be difficult to pinpoint the cause. Some common causes include:
- Exposure to loud noises, which can range from headphones to construction equipment (e.g. power drills).
- Aging - Age-related hearing loss is often accompanied by tinnitus.
- Adverse effects from ototoxic medications (e.g. aspirin).
- Neck or head injuries.
In addition to these causes, it’s important to note that certain occupations can increase your chances of being diagnosed with this condition. The occupations that put you at the greatest risk are those that involve high volume noise exposure, such as the military, construction industry, or entertainment industry.
The statistics further reflect how great of an impact these fields can have on one’s hearing. For example, tinnitus is known as the leading disability among veterans. Likewise, musicians are more than twice as likely to develop this condition as compared to non-musicians.
Are you a veteran who tinnitus? You’re not alone. It affects more veterans than even PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Learn more now.
How Tinnitus Impacts Your Life
While most cases of tinnitus occur so infrequently that the condition is almost unnoticeable, persistent cases of tinnitus can lead to other issues. Most commonly, tinnitus impacts one’s ability to hear. In fact, the BHI found that 39% of people with tinnitus feel that the condition impairs their hearing.
Not only can tinnitus impact your ability to hear, but it can impact your ability to sleep. The BHI also reports that 20% of those with tinnitus experience trouble sleeping at night. Why? Because regardless of how quiet your room is at night, that irritating buzzing can keep you wake.
Perhaps the most serious impacts of tinnitus include its potential to result in anxiety or depression. In 2017, The International Tinnitus Journal published a meta-analysis that evaluated the link between this condition and mental health. Across the studies, of the patients with tinnitus, 39.2% had anxiety and depression, 10.2% had anxiety only, and 9.8% had depression only.
Did you know that untreated hearing loss has also been connected to depression? Treating hearing loss can reduce depressive symptoms. Find out more now.
How is Tinnitus is Treated
The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) notes that 15% (50 million) of the U.S. population experiences tinnitus. However, most cases are tolerable and don’t call for treatment. Nevertheless, the ATA also shares that 20 million people experience chronic tinnitus, while another 2 million experience rares cases of debilitating tinnitus.
Unfortunately, for those with lesser tolerable cases, there is no cure, but there are treatment options available that can help to ease the burden of the condition. Treatment options include: pursuing better overall health, seeking sound or drug therapies, or wearing hearing aids.
Since tinnitus is often accompanied by hearing loss, wearing hearing aids can work to address two conditions at once. In fact, studies have found that the amplification hearing aids provide can help to alleviate the effects of the condition.
Here’s how it works: Tinnitus is often brought about by the absence of sound. When there is no sound, your brain experiences a lack of neural stimulation. As a result, your brain tries to compensate, leaving you to hear the neural activity in your brain.
Hearing aids, however, amplify the sounds around you, reducing the need for your brain to compensate and increasing the neural activity in your brain. If the hearing aids don’t alleviate the tinnitus itself, the amplification of sound alone can help to mask the ‘ringing’ sound you hear.
By offering affordable hearing aids, Advanced Affordable Hearing helps people like you to hear better. To improve your quality of life with hearing aids today, start by visiting our Online Hearing Check. After that, you can find the perfect hearing aids for you.