The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 50 million Americans experience tinnitus. That’s over 15 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly one in every six of us.
So what is this condition that affects so many people — and what can tinnitus sufferers do about it? We cover the basics here.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the medical term for the sensation of hearing sound in your ears when no external sound is present. In most cases, tinnitus is a subjective sound, meaning only the person who has it can hear it. Typically, sufferers describe the sound as “ringing in ears,” though others describe it as hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring and even chirping.
Just as the sound may be different for each person, the effects of tinnitus are different for every individual, too. For some, it is sporadic and “not that bad.” For others, tinnitus never stops and can make daily life awful.
But one thing everyone with tinnitus has in common is a desire for relief. For most, this desire is so great they will try anything to make their tinnitus less annoying, including resorting to acupuncture, eardrops, herbal remedies, hypnosis and more.
What causes tinnitus?
Scientists and health experts have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of tinnitus. But several sources are known to trigger or worsen ringing in the ears, including:
- Loud noises and hearing loss — Exposure to loud noises can destroy the non-regenerative cilia (tiny hairs) in the cochlea, causing permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss. Noise-induced tinnitus is often the result of exposure to loud environmental noises, such as working in a factory setting, with or around heavy machinery, or even a single event like a gunshot or loud concert.
- Aging — Natural aging, too, gradually destroys the cilia, and is a leading cause of hearing loss. Tinnitus is a common symptom of age-related hearing loss.
- Ototoxic medications – Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, diuretics and others can be ototoxic, meaning they are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibers connecting the cochlea to the brain.
- Hearing conditions – Conditions such as Ménière’s disease are known to cause tinnitus.
- Health conditions – Tinnitus has been associated with a number of health conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Thyroid problems
- Fibromyalgia and chronic pain
- Head or neck trauma
- Jaw misalignment
- Auditory, vestibular or facial nerve tumors
- Stress and fatigue
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
Currently, there is no known cure for tinnitus. However, according to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), there are a few established therapies and tinnitus treatment options. Because there is no cure, the ATA notes, “the primary objective for all currently available tinnitus treatment options is to lower the perceived burden of tinnitus.”
Hearing aids are one tinnitus treatment option the ATA lists, with hearing professionals reporting that 60 percent of their tinnitus patients experience relief when wearing them.
Sound therapy is another treatment option listed by the ATA, which notes that hearing aids are an effective component to most sound therapy protocols.
Sound therapy — and hearing aids — work by masking the tinnitus sound and reducing the perception and intensity of any “ringing in the ears.” This helps take your mind off of your tinnitus, which helps lower its burden.
What should you do if you or someone you know has tinnitus?
Since the exact cause of tinnitus is not known, the ATA recommends you visit your primary care provider and a hearing healthcare professional for evaluation. This evaluation helps them determine if tinnitus is present and what may be causing it. Specialized tests are performed to evaluate the auditory system. Some of these tests measure the specific features of the tinnitus itself, and could include:
- Evoked response audiometry
- Tinnitus pitch match
- Tinnitus loudness match
How can you get tinnitus relief?
While there is no cure for tinnitus, Starkey’s hearing aids with proprietary Multiflex Tinnitus Technology have been clinically proven to provide relief for ringing in the ears.
Multiflex Tinnitus Technology enhances the masking capabilities of Starkey hearing aids even more by creating a customizable and comforting sound stimulus that you and your hearing professional can fine-tune. This sound stimulus soothes the unique, irritating sounds you hear — so you can get your mind off your tinnitus and get your life back.