Understanding Tinnitus

The human brain is an amazing thing. It can even make us think we’re hearing something when there’s nothing around to be heard. We’re not talking about hallucinations; we’re talking about something called “tinnitus.” You may know it as “ringing in the ears.”

Odds are just about everyone has experienced some level of tinnitus at one point or another. If you’ve ever been to a loud concert or sporting event and left feeling that you can somehow still hear the event going on for a while, even though you’re out in the parking lot, you know something of what tinnitus is like.

Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a persistent sound—ringing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, even roaring—when there isn’t anything nearby making that sound. Here are a few of its causes:

  • Age-related hearing loss: A lot of people lose some hearing as they grow older. As hair cells in the cochlea begin to wear and die off, phantom sound signals can be sent to the brain.
  • Physical trauma: Just as head trauma can concuss your brain, it can also disrupt the function of the inner ear. Yet another reason why helmets are so important in sports, bicycling, and motorcycle riding.
  • Loud noise: Constant exposure to loud workplace machinery and tools without ear protection, and even long-term playing of loud music through headphones are common tinnitus causes. Spending time hunting with a shotgun or practicing with any gun at a range without ear protection is also dangerous to your hearing.
  • Earwax blockage. It’s not just the inner ear that can lead to tinnitus. If earwax builds up on the eardrum, the irritation and/or the change it makes in the eardrum’s ability to vibrate properly can lead to a tinnitus sensation.

What to do about tinnitus? It’s important to realize that tinnitus isn’t a condition; it’s a symptom of something else that is wrong. If an instance of tinnitus can be traced to a physical problem that can be fixed, the tinnitus may go away. But often, tinnitus of a distracting level can only be dealt with by managing it.

And those management techniques can be very effective. They include devices that mask tinnitus with other sound or modify environmental sound in a way that distracts from the tinnitus. Hearing aids have also proved helpful. In fact, there are now hearing aids with tinnitus-related technology built in.

In consultation with their doctor and their hearing care professional, some tinnitus sufferers may also try behavioral therapy and even pharmaceutical options.

If you are suffering from tinnitus, give us a call and schedule an appointment with one of our hearing health professionals to discuss the best treatment options.