In the movies, invisibility is a powerful tool. Whether it’s a mud-covered hero, a cloaked spaceship, or a stealthy ninja, invisibility allows people in movies to be more effectual and, frequently, accomplish the impossible.
Regrettably, invisible health disorders are no less potent…and they’re a lot less fun. Tinnitus, for example, is a really common condition that affects the ears. But there are no outward symptoms, it doesn’t matter how thoroughly you look.
But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean tinnitus doesn’t have a considerable impact on individuals who experience symptoms.
Tinnitus – what is it?
One thing we recognize for sure about tinnitus is that it can’t be seen. As a matter of fact, tinnitus is a disorder of the ears, which means symptoms are auditory in nature. You know when you are sitting in a very quiet room, or when you return from a loud concert and you hear that ringing in your ears? That’s tinnitus. Now, tinnitus is rather common (something like 25 million people experience tinnitus every year).
There are lots of other manifestations of tinnitus besides the typical ringing. Noises like humming, whirring, crackling, clicking, and a number of others can manifest. Here’s the common denominator, anyone who has tinnitus is hearing sounds that are not really there.
For most people, tinnitus will be a short-term affair, it will come and go very quickly. But for somewhere between 2-5 million individuals, tinnitus is a chronic, sometimes incapacitating condition. Here’s one way to think about it: hearing that ringing in your ears for five or ten minutes is annoying, but you can distract yourself easily and move on. But what if that sound doesn’t go away? Clearly, your quality of life would be significantly impacted.
What causes tinnitus?
Have you ever had a headache and tried to narrow down the cause? Perhaps it’s stress; maybe you’re getting a cold; perhaps it’s allergies. A number of things can trigger a headache and that’s the issue. The same is also true of tinnitus, although the symptoms might be common, the causes are widespread.
In some cases, it might be really clear what’s causing your tinnitus symptoms. But you may never really know in other situations. Generally speaking, however, tinnitus could be caused by the following:
- Colds or allergies: Swelling can happen when a lot of mucus backs up in your ears. This inflammation can cause tinnitus.
- Hearing loss: Hearing loss and tinnitus are often closely associated. In part, that’s because noise damage can also be a direct contributor to sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, they both have the same cause. But the ringing in your ears can seem louder with hearing loss because the external world is quieter.
- Certain medications: Tinnitus symptoms can be triggered by some over-the-counter and prescription drugs. Once you stop using the medication, the ringing will typically subside.
- Noise damage: Tinnitus symptoms can be caused by exposure to excessively loud noise over time. One of the top causes of tinnitus is exposure to loud noises and this is quite common. The best way to prevent this kind of tinnitus is to stay away from overly loud locations (or use hearing protection if avoidance isn’t possible).
- High blood pressure: For some people, tinnitus could be the consequence of high blood pressure. Getting your blood pressure under control with the help of your physician is the best way to handle this.
- Ear infections or other blockages: Similar to a cold or seasonal allergies, ear infections, and other blockages can cause inflammation in the ear canal. As a result, your ears might begin to ring.
- Head or neck injuries: The head and neck are extremely sensitive systems. Ringing in your ears can be triggered by traumatic brain injuries including concussions.
- Meniere’s Disease: This is a condition of the inner ear that can cause a wide range of symptoms. Amongst the first symptoms, however, are usually tinnitus and dizziness. Over time, Meniere’s disease can lead to irreversible hearing loss.
Treatment will clearly be simpler if you can determine the source of your tinnitus symptoms. For example, if an earwax obstruction is triggering ringing in your ears, clearing out that earwax can reduce your symptoms. Some individuals, however, might never identify what causes their tinnitus symptoms.
How is tinnitus diagnosed?
Tinnitus that only lasts a few minutes isn’t something that you really need to have diagnosed. Still, having regular hearing assessments is always a good idea.
But you should certainly schedule an appointment with us if your tinnitus won’t subside or if it keeps coming back. We will execute a hearing examination, discuss your symptoms and how they’re affecting your life, and perhaps even discuss your medical history. All of that insight will be used to diagnose your symptoms.
How is tinnitus treated?
Tinnitus is not a condition that can be cured. But it can be treated and it can be managed.
If you’re using a specific medication or have a root medical condition, your symptoms will improve when you deal with the underlying cause. But there will be no known root condition to manage if you’re dealing with chronic tinnitus.
So managing symptoms so they have a limited affect on your life is the goal if you have persistent tinnitus. There are lots of things that we can do to help. Here are some of the most common:
- A hearing aid: When you have hearing loss, external sounds become quieter and your tinnitus symptoms become more noticeable. In these situations, a hearing aid can help turn the volume up on the rest of the world, and drown out the buzzing or ringing you may be hearing from your tinnitus.
- A masking device: This is a hearing aid-like device that masks sounds instead of boosting them. These devices create just the right amount and type of sound to make your specific tinnitus symptoms fade into the background.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: In terms of cognitive behavioral therapy, we might end up referring you to a different provider. This is a therapeutic approach designed to help you not notice the ringing in your ears.
The treatment plan that we develop will be custom-designed to your specific tinnitus needs. The goal will be to help you regulate your symptoms so that you can go back to enjoying your life!
If you’re struggling with tinnitus, what should you do?
Even though tinnitus is invisible, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Chances are, those symptoms will only get worse. It’s better to get ahead of your symptoms because you may be able to stop them from growing worse. You should at least be sure to have your ear protection handy whenever you’re going to be around loud sound.
If you have tinnitus that won’t go away (or keeps coming back) make an appointment with us to get a diagnosis.