Do you hear sounds like ringing, hissing or thumping but when you look around nothing seems to be making it? Before you think that you may be in your own horror movie, calm down because there might be something more logical behind it – TINNITUS.
Say what? Come again?
Tinnitus is known to be a sound heard by a person without any actual outside source. People diagnosed with tinnitus describe the condition as hearing a ringing, hissing or thumping sound.
Is tinnitus a serious condition?
Most of the time, not really. BUT, if it comes on loudly and suddenly, to the point that it already interferes with normal communication and daily functions, a visit to an audiologist, primary care doctor or ENT might be due.
How common is tinnitus?
According to the U.S Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus. Approximately 2 million suffer from extreme and debilitating cases while around 20 million people struggle with chronic tinnitus. In short, tinnitus is actually rather common when you look at the data.
Tinnitus – The Phantom Noise
Tinnitus is referred to as phantom noise by many, varying in pitches from a high squeal to a low roar. In some cases, tinnitus sounds can become so loud to the point that it interferes with normal living.
In concept, tinnitus can be really variable – it may come and go in waves or be constantly present. Knowing the type and severity of tinnitus is essential so that an audiologist can map out accurate tinnitus treatment options.
Understanding & Diagnosing Tinnitus
Tinnitus has been reported as a ringing, clicking, roaring, buzzing, hissing or a mixture of those sounds. Doctors will usually ask a tinnitus patient if the sound is occasional or constant. There are specialized tests that audiologists can carry out to document tinnitus. Aside from those tests, an audiologist may also go over your health history, lifestyle, and medication use. Additionally, a patient will also be asked about the ff.:
- exposure to loud sounds
- medicines being taken (including OTCs)
Types of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus –
This is the root cause of ‘phantom noise’. Only the person with tinnitus can hear the sound. Subjective tinnitus is usually caused by ear problems in the outer, middle or inner ear. There might also be issues in the hearing or auditory nerves along with the part of the brain that interprets signals to sound.
Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus.
Objective tinnitus is the complete opposite of subjective tinnitus. A trained audiologist can actually hear and measure the sound which may be caused by muscle contractions, blood vessel/heart problem, or middle ear bone condition.
Blood Vessel Disorders and Tinnitus
Tinnitus brought about by blood vessel disorders may be caused by the ff.:
- Plaque buildup in the arteries
- Head or neck tumors
- Heart or cardiovascular issues
- Untreated or poorly treated high blood pressure
- Irregular flow in the carotid artery
- Arteriovenous malformation
What about tinnitus that feels like a heartbeat? You know, not the kind of thing where your heart skips a beat when you swoon but instead you seem to always hear a beating, thumping or pulsating sound? It could mean that you have some issues with your blood vessel. This kind of tinnitus SHOULD NOT be ignored and must be referred to a doctor immediately.
Frequently Ask Questions
When should you see an audiologist?
A common mistake that people with tinnitus do is shrugging off the symptoms until it gets severe. Take it from us, the best time to see an audiologist is when you first experience one or a couple of tinnitus symptoms.
It’s not wise to let tinnitus drag on for some time because in the process, you may already be experiencing anxiety, emotional anxiety or depression which are not uncommon with this condition.
Is tinnitus causing emotional stress or is it the other way around?
This has always been an interesting point of discussing which up until now. With that in mind, perhaps the best thing to do is to not wait until tinnitus starts eating up your happy disposition and overall wellness.
Can you get tinnitus right after a cold?
Experiencing tinnitus after getting a cold or an upper respiratory tract infection is also quite common. Partially, this may be normal BUT if the tinnitus doesn’t improve within a week, you need to see a doctor.
More often than not, tinnitus is a somewhat annoying condition but not really considered as a health threatening condition. There are rare times that tinnitus can be attributed to different types of tumors, cardiovascular or heart issues, blood pressure and blood vessel issues, but again this is rare. You should also see one of these specialists immediately if dizziness accompanies the tinnitus or if you experience sudden hearing loss with accompanied dizziness or nausea.
What causes tinnitus?
The most common cause of tinnitus is reported to be inner ear hair cell damage.
Normally, the tiny and delicate hairs of the inner ear move with the pressure of sound waves which then trigger the cells to release an electrical signal from the auditory nerve to the brain, which are then interpreted as sound. In short, the hairs of the inner ear work as a “transporter” of sound.
If the hairs of the inner ear are bent, broken or flat out damaged, they can send random and uncalled for electrical impulses to the brain, thereby causing tinnitus.
Another cause of tinnitus is age-related hearing loss, scientifically referred to as presbycusis.
What Increases Chances of Tinnitus?
The most common risk factor of tinnitus is NOISE EXPOSURE. Fortunately, this is a preventable condition with the use of hearing protection.
AGE is also a risk factor for tinnitus for a number of reasons. As people age, more medications are needed, which may expose them to tinnitus-inducing drugs.
In terms of GENDER, men are more likely to get tinnitus than women, mainly because of lifestyle and exposure to noise (factory/industrial plant, hobbies: firing, hunting) and lifestyle (smoking, drinking).
Complications of Tinnitus
By itself, tinnitus can already make a great impact, a negative one at that, in someone’s life. Below are some complications that may be triggered by tinnitus:
Fatigue: We’re not just talking about physical fatigue here; a person suffering from tinnitus can also experience emotional and mental fatigue as well. People with tinnitus end up having their brain cells working double or triple time just so they can hear above the “inner” or phantom noise.
Stress, anxiety and irritability: Mood and disposition may also be affected by tinnitus, especially in severe levels. Think of it this way – you are trying to write a business proposal, or you are trying to study for an exam but this very ANNOYING and somewhat DISTRACTING buzzing noise is trying to take center stage. Horrific, right?
The situation of not being able to function like normal can lead to stress, irritability and anxiety that affects the overall wellness of an individual.
Memory problems: Tinnitus may also have negative impacts on memory and concentration, triggering sleep problems and depression. Practitioners have observed that tinnitus interferes with how the brain processes information.
In fact, numerous research studies have found a link between concentration, memory and tinnitus.
Eye Problems: This is quite a rare condition, but gaze-evoked tinnitus actually exists. This is when certain eye movements cause the volume of the tinnitus to increase.
People with gaze-evoked tinnitus can suffer symptoms while in a neutral head position. In this case, an audiologist alone cannot solve this type of tinnitus; coordination from medical specialists in the related field is needed.
How to prevent tinnitus?
Make sure to keep your yearly appointments with your doctor and be vigilant in getting your annual blood work.
Avoid a sedentary lifestyle. No need to enrol in a gym or run a marathon – a short walk around the neighborhood or a brief treadmill run can do a lot of wonders to keep tinnitus at bay.
Address your existing health conditions.
Use hearing protection when dealing with loud noises. Going to a concert or shooting range, dealing with loud construction tools (jack hammers, chainsaws) can really put your ears at risk.
Keep the volume at moderate levels. There’s something just so satisfying when listening to your favorite music, but make sure to keep the volume at an ear-friendly level.
How to Cope with Tinnitus
People who are told by their doctors that they have tinnitus may feel sad, disheartened or discouraged. However, it’s not really the end of the world – with the right doctor or audiologist, people can win over tinnitus.
There are numerous support groups out there, online or physical. A person with tinnitus can also keep learning about his or her condition to be updated with new developments or treatments. The American Tinnitus Foundation is a great resource for the latest news and issues about tinnitus.
What is the most effective treatment for tinnitus?
The first thing to be established is whether a hearing loss is present with tinnitus. If yes, a patient will be given tinnitus therapy and/or hearing aids.
Tinnitus that occurs with hearing loss usually happens because of the damage in the auditory system. Hearing aids can help people with this type of tinnitus. But of course, it must be noted that dealing or living with tinnitus is a long learning process.
The right perspective and attitude will be of great help. Entrusting your hearing health to a trusted audiologist will surely be of great help. If you are in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area, HearCare Audiology Centers can greatly help you with tinnitus concerns.
Tinnitus Treatment Options
There are many available tinnitus treatment options such as biofeedback, meditation, sound/noise conditioning, tinnitus programs, etc. Audiologists will present to you the options based on the assessment and medical background checking. When being checked by a doctor, make sure to be as detailed as possible with all your medications and health conditions to ensure that accurate treatment options can be given.
Again, if you have hearing loss with tinnitus, hearing aids that are programmed to work with tinnitus will be of great help.
Being diagnosed with tinnitus doesn’t mean that you have to stay at home, mulling over your condition. Make an effort to maintain a holistic and active lifestyle. Most importantly, follow the doctor’s recommendations based on the results of the tests.
Is tinnitus an emergency?
In rare cases, tinnitus can be considered as a serious medical condition primarily because it has led to more serious medical problems upon closer examination. These serious conditions involve acoustic tumors, brain tumors and cardio-vascular issues.
Most of the time, tinnitus may just be due to a hearing loss. However, if tinnitus is experienced SUDDENLY and without a clear reason, it would be best to see a medical professional ASAP.
What if tinnitus is accompanied by dizziness or sudden hearing loss?
You must be seen by a doctor within 24 hours. An audiologist or ENT specializing in tinnitus must be contacted because steroids must be administered within 48 or 72 hours of onset.
Tinnitus is NOT a dead end. Seek medical help, so you can be your old self again. Contact HearCare Audiology Indiana to set an appointment with our trusted audiologists.