Tinnitus can significantly alter your lifestyle:
- Difficulty concentrating or relaxing
- Irritability or nervousness
- Problems sleeping
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a subjective experience: hearing sound when there is no external physical source present. People use a variety of terms such as hissing, roaring, ringing or chirping to describe it.
The actual mechanism responsible for tinnitus is not yet known, and, in fact, there are probably many different reasons. We do know that it is a real – not imagined – symptom of changes in the delicate structures of the inner ear or neural system.
It is like walking on the grass. If you continue to walk on the grass, it can be weakened and no longer spring back. The microscopic hair cells of the inner ear are not able to send a clear signal to the brain. Instead, the brain tries to compensate for the weakened signal and patterns begin.
It’s what happens BETWEEN THE EARS that creates the ongoing and continuing problems with tinnitus.
What causes it?
There are many causes; indeed almost anything that can go wrong with the ear has tinnitus associated with it as a symptom. Problems ranging from too much cerumen (ear wax) to ear infections to acoustic tumors can produce tinnitus.
One of the most common causes is exposure to excessively loud sounds either on the job (musicians, carpenters, pilots) or recreationally (guns, chain saws, loud music).
Tinnitus can sometimes result from problems not associated with the ear, such as head injury or disorders of the neck vertebrae or the temporomandibular (jaw) joint. It can also be caused by cardiovascular disease, allergies, Meniere’s disease, underactive thyroid or degeneration of the bones in the middle ear. More than 200 prescription and non-prescription drugs list tinnitus as a potential side effect.
How many people have tinnitus?
- Roughly 50 million Americans have experienced tinnitus. 17 million report a significant or debilitating problem.
- Tinnitus is identified more frequently in white individuals.
- The prevalence of tinnitus is almost twice as frequent in the South as in the Northeast.
What can make tinnitus worse?
- Loud noise
- Excessive use of alcohol or recreational drugs
- Aspirin, quinine, some antibiotics and hundreds of other drugs which can either cause tinnitus or make existing tinnitus worse
What should you do if you have tinnitus?
- Speak with your family physician to see if there is a treatable medical condition causing tinnitus.
- Contact our office to speak with Dr. Ellison, who has been working with tinnitus patients for many years. Dr. Ellison is a member of the Tinnitus Practitioners Association and The American Tinnitus Association.
What are some common treatments available?
Amplification with hearing aids helps people hear ambient environmental sounds instead of their tinnitus.
Retraining therapy, designed to retrain the brain to ignore the tinnitus, combines directive counseling with exposure to steady, quiet, broadband sounds. This sound exposure is often achieved with behind-the-ear or in-the-ear sound generators.
Drug therapy including anti-depressants, anticonvulsants, anti-anxiety medications and vasodilators have helped some patients successfully manage their tinnitus. Many drugs, however, have unpleasant side effects. Researchers continue to look for a safe, orally administered drug.
Dental treatment for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems may help alleviate damage to this joint that may cause tinnitus, jaw clicking and pain.
There is no surgical treatment at this time to eliminate tinnitus.
What Can You Do Now if You HAVE tinnitus?
- Avoid silence
- Do not “overprotect” your ears, but use ear protection in loud environments
- Do things you enjoy and which will take your mind away from tinnitus
- Get enough sleep, exercise regularly.