Tinnitus: A Symptom of Other ConditionsJun 11, 2015
Tinnitus is that ringing or buzzing sound in your ears that you often hear after a loud music concert, or after spending a few hours in the stadium cheering on your favorite football team. Most times, the sound is temporary, and is gone within 24 hours. But for many people, that ringing in their ears never goes away. And that’s when it’s time to see an audiologist.
Do I Have Tinnitus?
If you hear a ringing or buzzing that's not coming from an outside source, you are experiencing tinnitus. Some people with tinnitus hear the noise sporadically, and others have a constant ringing in their ears. You may hear it more when there is no background noise to mask the sound.
Who Has Tinnitus?
The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) estimates that more than 50 million people have some degree of tinnitus, with almost 12 million suffering from tinnitus that is severe enough to disrupt their personal and professional lives. Many of the people living with severe tinnitus are veterans, and tinnitus and hearing loss are the top two disability claims in the military.
Two Types of Tinnitus
Subjective: Most people with tinnitus have subjective tinnitus. This is when there is no outside source, and the sound is caused by a problem in the inner ear.
Objective Tinnitus: This type of tinnitus is when the sound is made by vascular or muscular conditions, and can be detected by a doctor. For example, pulsatile tinnitus is when a person can hear a whooshing sound with each heartbeat. A doctor would be able to hear this with a stethoscope.
Tinnitus is a Symptom of Other Conditions
Tinnitus is not considered a disease, but a symptom of an underlying illness or medical condition. In some of these cases, the tinnitus is resolved when the condition is addressed, and other times, it’s there for life. Some of underlying conditions include:
- Noise-induced hearing loss: Usually develops after long exposure to loud noises, but sometimes caused by a single loud noise like a gunshot or explosion. This noise can damage the sensory hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss and tinnitus.
- Presbycusis: Hearing loss that occurs as a natural part of aging. Parts of the ear, including the cochlea, can deteriorate over time, leading to hearing loss and tinnitus.
- Ototoxic medications: Medications that can lead to tinnitus and hearing loss. These include aspirin, and a few anti-infammatories, antibiotics and anti-depressants.
- Meniere’s Disease: An inner ear disease that can cause hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo.
- Treatable ear conditions: These include an excess buildup of earwax, benign tumors or ear infections.
- Medical conditions: High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes can all cause problems with your hearing, including tinnitus.
Living with Tinnitus
In most cases, tinnitus is annoying, but manageable. But for some people, tinnitus is debilitating, and can lead to further health problems including anxiety and depression. But even though there is no cure, tinnitus can be managed, even in its most severe form.
Treatment for Tinnitus
An experienced audiologist will help someone with tinnitus determine if there is any underlying hearing loss, and may recommend hearing aids. When exterior sounds are amplified, they can help mask the sound of the tinnitus. Sound therapy devices can also be used to manage the tinnitus.
Many patients with tinnitus are encouraged to do relaxation and diversion exercises to help manage their tinnitus. These tinnitus management programs, used in conjunction with hearing aids or sound therapy devices, can make a big difference in the life of someone living with tinnitus.
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