Tinnitus can mean many things for many different people with 20% of Americans reporting this common problem, ranging from a mild ringing nuisance to a debilitating and life-altering experience. It may be one sound or multiple sounds such as buzzing, humming, or high pitched ringing, a pulsing sensation, and can even be perceived as a musical tune. With the exact cause of tinnitus difficult to pinpoint, understanding important facts about hearing damage can make dealing with tinnitus significantly easier and expand treatment options for those who suffer from the bothersome buzzing.
Tinnitus is the acute or chronic perception of noise or sound in the ears when not externally present due to damage to small sensory hair cells in the cochlea that sends auditory information to the brain. This condition is extremely common, as 15% to 20% of people experience chronic ringing in their life. Tinnitus is usually a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, damage to the inner ear or cochlea due to repetitive exposure to loud or harmful sounds, or a circulatory system disorder, and depending on the case, can last hours, days, or a lifetime. Though not often a serious health risk, the constant ringing can range from a mild nuisance to a debilitating struggle, with studies linking tinnitus to sleep disorders, depression, and difficulty performing day to day activities.
Though the exact cause of tinnitus is difficult to pinpoint, studies show patients can experience tinnitus from a wide array of contributing factors, ranging from damage to the inner ear, underlying medical conditions, and some controllable risks you may find surprising. Prolonged exposure to high volume sounds at or above 85 decibels, age-related hearing loss, diabetes, or medication such as ibuprofen and certain antibiotics deemed harmful to the ear and its nerve supply, can cause chronic tinnitus in patients, while acute or temporary tinnitus can be caused by more unusual circumstances, such as excessive build up of ear wax, ear infections, and even alcohol consumption. Alcohol has been shown to limit your ability to understand lower frequency sounds such as speech by creating a toxic environment for cochlear hair cells, leading to possible tinnitus symptoms.
Though pinpointing the causes of tinnitus can be difficult, there are numerous treatment options that have shown positive results for those who suffer from the noisy nuisance. If hearing loss is suspected, getting your hearing tested by a licensed audiologist can help determine the severity of damage and provide options for treatment such as hearing aids, sound masking devices, sound therapy, and behavioral therapy. Treatment of underlying conditions such as diabetes, circulatory system disorders, or the changing of prescribed medication by a health care provider may also prove helpful when addressing chronic tinnitus. For those enduring acute or temporary tinnitus, health care providers may suggest options depending on the severity of your condition, such as wax removal, diet change, stress reduction, or the reduction of alcohol consumption.