Do you ever hear a ringing sound that no one else seems to notice but you? It’s 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 the U.S. adult population has experienced tinnitus for at least five minutes within the past year.
If you find yourself frequently experiencing tinnitus, read further to learn more about 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.” Tinnitus is often described as a high-pitched ringing, buzzing, or humming sound. A person with tinnitus can hear the sound in one ear or both and intermittently or consistently.
While tinnitus 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
It should be noted that certain occupations increase your chances of being diagnosed with this condition: For instance, tinnitus is leading disability among veterans, and musicians are more than twice as likely to develop this condition as compared to non-musicians.
Are you a veteran experiencing tinnitus? You’re not alone. Tinnitus affects more veterans than even PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Learn more>>>
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; 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 is its potential to result in anxiety or depression. In 2017, The International Tinnitus Journal published a meta-analysis that evaluated the link between tinnitus 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.
NOTE: If you are concerned that you may be experiencing anxiety or depression, for immediate help, call a hotline. For further information, visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website.
Did you know that untreated hearing loss has been connected to depression? Treating hearing loss can reduce depressive symptoms. Learn more>>>
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 of tinnitus 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 debilitating cases.
Unfortunately for those with lesser tolerable cases of tinnitus, 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, and 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 tinnitus.
Here’s how it works: Tinnitus is often brought about by the absence of sound; when your brain experiences this lack of neural stimulation, it 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 start your journey to hearing better, visit our Online Hearing Check and find the hearing aids that are right for you.
Check out our other posts on hearing better with hearing aids: