That ringing, buzzing, humming, whistling sound in your ear could be tinnitus
Do your ears have a constant ringing, buzzing, humming, or whistling sound? Then you are not alone. Millions of people all over the world “hear” noises in their ears. The sound heard may vary from person to person, and may range from a soft, whistling sound to a loud, roaring wind noise. It may be continuous, pulsating, or it may come and go. Whatever it sounds like, or however long it lasts, you are a sufferer of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a phantom noise perceived by certain individuals when no external sound is taking place in the environment around them. It can vary in pitch and intensity and range from a mild annoying sound, to an extremely loud and painful noise. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that about 50 million people in the United States suffer from tinnitus. Of that figure, about 12 million have such a severe case of tinnitus that “it drives them up the wall with frustration,” forcing them to go in search of relief.
Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss! And, in many cases, those suffering from tinnitus have hearing thresholds that are within the normal range of hearing. However, having tinnitus usually does indicate some type of damage to the auditory system, even if a hearing loss is not present. Additionally, some studies show there is a relationship between hearing loss and tinnitus with diverse types of hearing loss resulting in distinct kinds of tinnitus sounds.
In a study by French researchers of people with hearing loss, results indicated that patients who suffered from Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) as well as those suffering from noise related hearing loss, had a constant high-pitched sounding tinnitus. On the other hand, those whose hearing loss was caused by Meniere’s disease or some similar syndrome experienced a low-pitched hum that often fluctuated. The researchers also found an association between the degree of the hearing loss and the frequencies of the hearing loss. From this they concluded that the frequency of the tinnitus noise was almost always directly related to the measured frequencies of the hearing loss. And, that the loudness of the tinnitus also corresponded to the degree of the hearing loss being experienced.
There is no definite surety of what the cause of tinnitus is. But, there are many theories as to why some people hear sounds that do not have an actual external sound source. The most common theory is that the brain is responding to the loss of, or damage to, sensory hair cells inside the inner ear that in return causes the remaining hair cells to become more sensitive to sounds. Still, although the cause of tinnitus is not definitive, certain conditions appear to cause some people to be more susceptible to it than others. Below is a list of several common conditions that seem to trigger tinnitus:
• Exposure to loud noises, such as loud music, gun shot, or bomb blasts.
• Head injuries.
• Diets that are high in salt.
• Meniere’s disease.
• Ototoxic medicines.
• Tumor on the auditory nerve.
Tinnitus can cause great distress in the daily life of those who suffer from it. And those who suffer from severe untreated tinnitus often suffer from psychological, emotional, and social stress that has a significant impact on their quality of life, often leading to depression.
Severe tinnitus sufferers find it difficult to sleep, resulting in fatigue. They find it difficult to concentrate at work because of the constant annoying sound, resulting in problems on the job. They find they are no longer able to enjoy social activities with family and friends because they feel continually tormented by the noise, resulting in strained relationships. And, they find themselves constantly fatigued because of all the energy they use to battle their tinnitus.
Since tinnitus is not something that can be seen or heard by others, most people who suffer from it often feel misunderstood, isolated and alone. However, there is help for those who suffer from tinnitus.
The most common and the most successful form of tinnitus treatment is a form of sound therapy called, tinnitus masking. Tinnitus maskers come in various forms and uses another sound to diminish or “cancel out” the tinnitus that is heard. Today tinnitus maskers are even built into newer hearing devices, making it easier on those who also suffer from hearing loss. In this way, they get one device with two major functions — to assist with their hearing loss, and to assist with their tinnitus.
• For further information on any hearing-related disorders, please contact Dr. Deborah Nubirth, doctor of audiology, in New Providence at Comprehensive Family Medical Clinic, Poinciana Drive at 356-2276 or 677-6627 or 351-7902 in Grand Bahama; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.