What causes ringing in the ears? The Hearing Connection often have people come in stating they have ringing in the ears, but tinnitus is the medical term to explain the perception of sound in one or two ears when no sound is actually present. According to a national health study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 50 million individuals in the United States suffer from tinnitus to some degree. Nearly one-third of them find it so debilitating they seek medical attention for the ringing in their ears.
While there’s no proven cure for tinnitus, by better understanding the symptoms, causes, relief and related illnesses, it is possible to develop treatments to help ease or block out the ringing-in-the-ears sensation.
- 3 in 10 people over age 60 have hearing loss
- 1 in 6 baby boomers (ages 41-59), or 14.6%, have a hearing problem
- 1 in 14 Generation Xers (ages 29-40), or 7.4%, already have hearing loss
- At least 1.4 million children (18 or younger) have hearing problems
- It is estimated that 3 in 1,000 infants are born with serious to profound hearing loss
In addition, studies have linked untreated hearing loss to emotional, physical, mental, psychological and even economic disadvantages! And, to make matters even worse, there are many “myths” about hearing loss that prevent those with hearing loss from doing anything about it.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
Described as a ringing-in-the-ears or fullness-of-the-head sensation, these are the two most common symptoms of tinnitus in an individual. The noise can range from a ringing, buzzing, hissing or whizzing sound and can change from a soft pitch to a higher, louder frequency. Additionally, tinnitus can impact one or both ears and can remain constant or come and go. In more severe cases, the ringing in the ears is loud enough to interfere with daily activity, whereas individuals with mild cases of tinnitus experience a lower, duller sound.
Tinnitus is commonly seen in adults, but can affect individuals in any age group. In addition to perceiving a noise that doesn’t exist, individuals with tinnitus may experience discomfort, lack of sleep and an inability to live life due to the condition. Anxiety also is a common symptom of tinnitus, as it can sometimes interfere with work or other stressful situations. Individuals with tinnitus also may complain of hearing clicking or sharp sounds; rushing or humming noises or continuous low-pitch noises.
Causes of Tinnitus
With so many individuals suffering from tinnitus, it’s important to investigate what causes the ringing sensation. While many cases of tinnitus still remain undiagnosed, there are some common causes which are known to aggravate the condition:
- Age: Around the age of 60, your hearing tends to worsen. This slight loss of hearing can cause tinnitus, which is referred to as presbycusis.
- Loud noise exposure: Being exposed to loud noise on a regular basis from heavy equipment, chainsaws or firearms are common causes of tinnitus. However, anyone can have common exposure to loud noises by listening to music in headphones on a regular basis or attending live music performances frequently.
- Unhealthy habits: Researchers are not entirely certain why, but drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, eating certain foods and consuming caffeinated beverages can play a role in tinnitus.
- Common ailments: Having anemia, allergies, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, circulatory problems, diabetes and an underactive thyroid gland are all medical conditions that can lead to tinnitus.
Relief from Tinnitus
Often individuals with tinnitus view their suffering as a commonality, a part of everyday life. Because many cases of tinnitus aren’t severe enough for people to seek medical treatment, they turn to finding relief in common, non-medical varieties. While many of these vary from person to person, there are some remedies known to help ease the ringing in the ears sensation.
Many people find improving their health overall helps comfort tinnitus symptoms. This means controlling your blood pressure, reducing stress and decreasing caffeine consumption. Because some of these items stimulate your body’s systems, it’s also possible that these encourage tinnitus to flare up as well.
Individuals also try to follow relaxation techniques to help cope with and balance the tinnitus symptoms. These types of relief involve muscle relaxation and visualization.
Treatment for Tinnitus
Because there’s no proven cure for tinnitus, doctors have worked over the years to develop treatments which help make tinnitus easier to ignore or relives some of its symptoms. Noise suppression devices are commonly used to help combat the ringing-in-the-ears sensation. A masking device is worn in the ear and produces a constant, soft noise to reduce the ringing or whistling feeling in the ear. Hearing aids also are used as tinnitus solutions. These train wearers to not focus on the tinnitus sounds.
Another treatment option is called tinnitus retraining therapy and is designed to teach the patient to ignore the background ringing noise in the ear. Often a white noise generator is used and creates environmental sounds so override the tinnitus sounds.