For many people tinnitus – the experience of a phantom ringing sound in the ear – is a near constant issue. Tinnitus can take many forms and can be caused by many different factors, but no matter how it manifests, chronic tinnitus is frustrating. Frequent tinnitus cuts into our ability to focus, change our mood, and ripple through other aspects of our health.
If tinnitus is interfering with your life, come see what Ascent Audiology & Hearing can do for you. We offer a variety of tinnitus treatment pathways including hearing aids with built in tinnitus therapies.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus refers to hearing an intrusive sound that is caused by malfunctioning of your hearing. This noise can take different forms. Most commonly, people report their tinnitus sounding like a tonal ringing, but it can also sound like buzzing, screeching, hissing, clicking, or mimic the sound of static, sirens, ocean waves or even music. While tinnitus can be caused by a variety of underlying causes, all tinnitus indicates damage to the auditory system.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two major types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. The vast majority of tinnitus cases are subjective tinnitus, related to hearing damage in the inner ear.
Subjective tinnitus is mostly caused by a misfiring of the nerves in the inner ear, causing you to perceive sound where none is present. Currently, there is no cure for subjective tinnitus although it can be treated successfully with a variety of therapies.
Objective tinnitus is much, much rarer and is based in a sound that the ear is generating that can be faintly perceived by others. Objective tinnitus is most often based in issues within the bones of the middle ear. Malformation or injury of the small bones in the middle ear can cause objective tinnitus to occur. Often objective tinnitus will cause a sound that is in sync with a person’s heartbeat.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by various factors that impede our hearing. Most often, exposure to dangerously loud sounds will trigger tinnitus. Loud noise places stress on the fine nerve cells of the inner ear and can cause them to malfunction. Damaged hearing can misfire sending sound signals to the brain without the presence of actual sound waves.
Tinnitus can also be brought on by head and neck injuries that incur trauma on the auditory system. Tinnitus can also be caused by physical issues within the ear related to genetic malformations. Certain physical issues behind tinnitus can be resolved with surgery if they occur within the middle or outer ear.
Some medications have the side effect of being “ototoxic” which means they can cause hearing damage including tinnitus. If you are currently taking medication and are concerned about tinnitus, talk to your prescribing doctor to see if there are other options.
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
Often tinnitus goes hand in hand with significant hearing loss. Over 90% of people with chronic tinnitus are also dealing with hearing loss, and both conditions are caused by damage to the auditory system. The presence of hearing loss can make tinnitus more intrusive and makes hearing more difficult. For people with chronic tinnitus, intrusive noise can drown out other sounds and speech they hear.
Chronic tinnitus exacerbates the negative effects of hearing loss making a person more vulnerable to mood swings and mental health issues, as well as social isolation. Fortunately, most major hearing aid manufacturers now offer options for tinnitus therapy built into their hearing aids.
While no cure exists for tinnitus yet, new breakthroughs in treating tinnitus have brought unprecedented relief from intrusive noise. Most people begin to find tinnitus relief through the use of white noise generators that help interrupt the intrusiveness of tinnitus with neutral background noise. There are many smart phone and computer applications available that can deliver customized white noise. Some hearing aids can now generate customized tones straight to your ear canal to neutralize the sounds of tinnitus.
Other lifestyle changes are being shown to help tinnitus. Sometimes changes to diet, exercise, and medication can suppress chronic tinnitus. New studies have found that some forms of meditation also provide tinnitus relief. Guided and mindfulness meditations specifically geared towards managing tinnitus are being shown to effectively suppress intrusive noise.
If you are looking for ways to manage your tinnitus, Ascent Audiology & Hearing can help you connect with solutions that work.