Insight into causes and treatments for tinnitus
Millions of Americans suffer from tinnitus or head noises. These can occur as an intermittent sound or an annoying continuous sound in one or both ears. The pitch of these sounds can range from a low roar to a high squeal or whine.
Causes of Tinnitus
There are generally two types of tinnitus: Subjective Tinnitus and Objective Tinnitus. Subjective Tinnitus is noise that only you can hear. Objective Tinnitus is noise that a doctor can detect during an examination.
A possible cause of tinnitus is damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. The health of these nerve endings is important for acute hearing, and injury to them brings on hearing loss and often, tinnitus. If you are older, advancing age is generally accompanied by a certain amount of hearing nerve impairment and tinnitus. In younger people, exposure to loud noise is a common cause of tinnitus. High-decibel recreational events, like car races, music concerts, or sports games are common causes, so it is recommended that hearing protection be worn during these events.
Tinnitus may also be caused by allergy, high or low blood pressure (blood circulation problems), a tumor, diabetes, thyroid problems, injury to the head or neck, and a variety of other causes including medications such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants, and aspirin. If you take aspirin and your ears ring, talk to your doctor about your dosage in relation to your size.
Treatment of Tinnitus
Prior to any treatment, it’s important to undergo a thorough examination and evaluation by your otolaryngologist. An essential part of the treatment will be your understanding of tinnitus and its causes. If your otolaryngologist finds a specific cause of your tinnitus, he or she may be able to eliminate the noise. This determination may require extensive testing including X-rays, balance tests and laboratory work. However, in most cases, tinnitus causes cannot be identified, and there is no specific treatment. Occasionally, medicine may help the noise. The medications used are varied, and several may be tried to gauge their effectiveness. Other treatment options include:
- Alternative treatments including acupuncture, hypnosis or supplements
- Amplification (hearing aids)
- Cochlear implants or electrical stimulation
- Cognitive therapy
- Medication to reduce the severity of symptoms
- Sound therapy and noise suppression
- TMJ treatment
Self-Help for Symptom Reduction
There are things you can do on your own to lessen the severity of tinnitus symptoms. These include:
- Avoiding exposure to loud sounds and noises.
- Getting your blood pressure checked. If it is high, ask your doctor for ideas on how to control it.
- Decreasing your intake of salt (salt impairs blood circulation).
- Avoiding stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, and tobacco.
- Exercising daily to improve your circulation.
- Getting adequate rest and avoiding fatigue.
Strategies to Cope With Tinnitus
If you can’t get complete relief from your tinnitus symptoms, you might consider learning to better cope with your condition. Here are some ideas.
Concentration and relaxation exercises can help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body. The increased relaxation and circulation achieved by these exercises can reduce the intensity of tinnitus in some patients.
Masking out the head noise with a competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock or radio static (white noise), may make tinnitus noise less noticeable. Tinnitus is usually more bothersome in quiet surroundings. Products that generate white noise are available through catalogs and specialty stores.
Hearing aids may reduce head noise while you are wearing them and sometimes cause the noise to go away temporarily. If you have a hearing loss, it is important not to set the hearing aid at excessively loud levels, as this can worsen the tinnitus in some cases. Before purchasing a hearing aid, a thorough trial is advisable if your primary purpose is the relief of tinnitus.
Tinnitus maskers can be combined within hearing aids. They emit a competitive but pleasant sound that can distract you from head noise. Some people find that a tinnitus masker may even suppress the head noise for several hours after it is used, but this is not true for all users.