Invisibility is a very useful power in the movies. The characters can frequently do the impossible if they have the power of invisibility, whether it’s a starship with cloaking ability or a wizard with an invisibility cloak.
Unfortunately, invisible health disorders are no less potent…and they’re a lot less fun. Tinnitus, for instance, is an incredibly common condition that impacts the ears. But there are no external symptoms, it doesn’t matter how well you look.
But just because it’s invisible doesn’t mean tinnitus doesn’t have a substantial impact on people who experience symptoms.
Tinnitus – what is it?
So we know one thing: you can’t see tinnitus. Actually, tinnitus symptoms are auditory in nature, being a disorder of the ears. You know that ringing in your ears you occasionally hear after a rock concert or in a really quiet room? That’s tinnitus. Now, tinnitus is quite common (somewhere around 25 million people experience tinnitus every year).
There are many other presentations of tinnitus besides the common ringing. Some individuals may hear buzzing, crunching, metallic noises, all kinds of things. Here’s the common denominator, anybody who has tinnitus is hearing sounds that aren’t really there.
For most individuals, tinnitus will be a short-lived affair, it will come and go really quickly. But for somewhere between 2-5 million people, tinnitus is a chronic, sometimes debilitating condition. Think about it like this: hearing that ringing in your ears for a few minutes is irritating, but you can distract yourself easily and move on. But what if you can’t be free from that sound, ever? Obviously, your quality of life would be substantially affected.
What causes tinnitus?
Have you ever attempted to identify the cause of a headache? Are you getting a cold, is it stress, or is it an allergic reaction? Lots of things can trigger a headache and that’s the problem. The symptoms of tinnitus, though fairly common, also have a wide variety of causes.
In some cases, it might be really obvious what’s causing your tinnitus symptoms. In other situations, you may never really know. In general, however, tinnitus may be caused by the following:
- Meniere’s Disease: A good number of symptoms can be caused by this disorder of the inner ear. Dizziness and tinnitus are amongst the first symptoms to manifest. With time, Meniere’s disease can lead to irreversible hearing loss.
- Head or neck injuries: Your head is rather sensitive! So head injuries, particularly traumatic brain injuries (including concussions)–can end up triggering tinnitus symptoms.
- 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 start ringing.
- Hearing loss: Hearing loss and tinnitus are often closely connected. In part, that’s because noise damage can also be a direct contributor to sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, both of them have the same cause. But the ringing in your ears can sound louder with hearing loss because the external world is quieter.
- Noise damage: Tinnitus symptoms can be triggered by exposure to overly loud noise over time. This is so prevalent that loud noises are one of the primary causes of tinnitus! The best way to counter this kind of tinnitus is to avoid overly loud locations (or use hearing protection if avoidance isn’t possible).
- Certain medications: Certain over-the-counter or prescription medicines can cause you to have ringing in your ears. Once you quit using the medication, the ringing will usually subside.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can trigger tinnitus symptoms for some people. If this is the situation, it’s a smart plan to consult your doctor in order to help manage your blood pressure.
- Colds or allergies: Swelling can happen when lots of mucus backs up in your ears. This swelling can cause tinnitus.
Treatment will obviously be simpler if you can pinpoint the cause of your tinnitus symptoms. For example, if an earwax obstruction is triggering ringing in your ears, clearing that earwax can relieve your symptoms. Some people, however, might never know what’s causing their tinnitus symptoms.
If your ears ring for a few minutes and then it subsides, it’s not really something that needs to be diagnosed (unless it happens often). Having said that, it’s never a bad plan to check in with us to schedule a hearing evaluation.
However, if your tinnitus won’t subside or continues to come back, you should schedule some time with us to get to the bottom of it (or at least start treatment). We will ask you about your symptoms, talk to you about how your quality of life is being affected, complete a hearing exam, and most likely discuss your medical history. All of that insight will be utilized to diagnose your symptoms.
There’s no cure for tinnitus. But it can be addressed and it can be managed.
If your tinnitus is caused by an underlying condition, like an ear infection or a medication you’re using, then addressing that underlying condition will lead to an improvement in your symptoms. But there will be no known root condition to manage if you’re dealing with chronic tinnitus.
For individuals with chronic tinnitus then, the goal is to manage your symptoms and help make sure your tinnitus doesn’t negatively impact your quality of life. We can help in many ways. Here are a few of the most prevalent:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: When it comes to cognitive behavioral therapy, we might end up referring you to a different provider. This technique uses therapy to help you learn to disregard the tinnitus sounds.
- A hearing aid: Sometimes, tinnitus becomes noticeable because your hearing loss is making outside sounds relatively quieter. The buzzing or ringing will be less evident when your hearing aid increases the volume of the outside world.
- A masking device: This is a device much like a hearing aid, except instead of boosting sounds, it masks sound. These devices can be calibrated to your specific tinnitus symptoms, generating just enough sound to make that ringing or buzzing substantially less conspicuous.
The treatment plan that we devise will be custom-designed to your specific tinnitus needs. The goal will be to help you control your symptoms so that you can go back to enjoying your life!
What should you do if you have tinnitus?
Even though tinnitus can’t be seen, it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Chances are, those symptoms will only grow worse. You might be able to prevent your symptoms from worsening if you can get in front of them. You should at least be sure to have your hearing protection handy whenever you’re going to be around loud sound.
If you’re struggling with tinnitus, call us, we can help.