According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), over 50 million Americans experience tinnitus. That’s over 15 percent of the U.S. population.
So what is this audiological and neurological condition that afflicts one in every six of us — and what can people who suffer from it do about it? We cover the basics here.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the medical term for the sensation of hearing sound in your ears when no external sound is present. In most cases, tinnitus is a subjective sound, meaning only the sufferer can hear it. Typically, sufferers describe the sound as “ringing in ears,” though others describe it as hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring and even chirping.
For some, tinnitus is mild and intermittent. For others, it can be severe and last all day. But for everyone, the desire for relief is great — so great, many sufferers will try anything to make their tinnitus less annoying, including resorting to acupuncture, eardrops, herbal remedies, hypnosis and more.
What causes tinnitus?
Scientists and health experts have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of tinnitus. But several sources are known to trigger or worsen ringing in the ears, including:
- Loud Noises and Hearing Loss —Exposure to loud noises can destroy the non-regenerative cilia (tiny hairs) in the cochlea, causing permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss. Noise-induced tinnitus is often the result of exposure to loud environmental noises, such as working in a factory setting, with or around heavy machinery, or even a single event like a gunshot or loud concert.
- Aging —Natural aging, too, gradually destroys the cilia, and is a leading cause of hearing loss. Tinnitus is a common symptom of age-related hearing loss.
- Ototoxic Medications –Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, diuretics and others can be ototoxic, meaning they are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibers connecting the cochlea to the brain.
- Hearing Conditions –Conditions such as Ménière’s disease are known to cause tinnitus.
- Health Conditions –Tinnitus has been associated with a number of health conditions, including: cardiovascular disease; hypertension (high blood pressure); thyroid problems; fibromyalgia and chronic pain; head or neck trauma; jaw misalignment; auditory, vestibular or facial nerve tumors; and stress and fatigue
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
Currently, there is no known tinnitus cure. However, according to the American Tinnitus Association, there are recommended ways to get tinnitus relief, including counseling and sound therapy.
Hearing aids are an effective part of a sound therapy protocol, as specific hearing aids today utilise a customisable and comforting sound stimulus that soothes the annoying noises associated with tinnitus. (See Starkey’s hearing aids with tinnitus relief technology.) Tinnitus usually produces a shrill, high pitched, unpleasant tone, while the hearing aid’s sound stimulus is designed to be soothing — to counterbalance and help take your mind of your tinnitus.
What should you do if you or someone you know has tinnitus?
Since the exact cause of tinnitus is not known, it’s recommended you visit a hearing healthcare professional for a clinical evaluation. This evaluation — including a complete patient medical history — helps the hearing professional determine if tinnitus is present and what may be causing it. Specialised tests are performed to evaluate the auditory system. Some of these tests measure the specific features of the tinnitus itself, and could include:
- Evoked response audiometry
- Tinnitus pitch match
- Tinnitus loudness match
Is tinnitus relief possible?
While there is no cure for tinnitus, Starkey’s proprietary Multiflex Tinnitus Technology has been clinically proven to provide relief for ringing in the ears. This patent-pending technology is available in our new Muse™, SoundLens® Synergy® or Halo™ 2 hearing aids. Go here to see how it works.
Click here to find a local hearing professional who specialises in tinnitus and can fit this technology, or to download a free tinnitus technology brochure.