Tinnitus is the medical term for ringing in the ears, and it is commonly associated with those who experience hearing loss. Living with tinnitus is very frustrating, and cause on to experience unwanted stress, disrupted sleep, and feelings of aggravation and irritability. Millions of Americans encounter the everyday struggles of living with tinnitus. It’s important to raise awareness on this issue, and provide information on what individuals with tinnitus can do to ease the effects, and learn to better manage the headache of problems that tinnitus brings.
1. What does tinnitus sound like?
Many describe tinnitus as a ringing, buzzing, humming, chirping, hissing, or roaring sound. It is the perception of a sound in the absence of an external source. Tinnitus can happen in one or both ears, and range from low pitched to high pitched sounds. On one end, someone may hear the sound subtly, where it isn’t causing too much of a disruption in their life. Whereas someone else may experience sounds that are obnoxiously loud, and to the point where it is causing them a migraine. It all depends on the person, and severity of tinnitus they experience. According to the American Academy of Otolaryngology, at least seven million Americans experience tinnitus so severely it interferes with their daily life.
2. What causes tinnitus?
Scientists believe that when the hair cells in your inner ear are damaged and hearing sensitivity is reduced, the brain’s neural circuits attempt to adapt by amping up your ear’s sensitivity to sound. If the normal sound input is reduced enough, central portions of the pathway change to compensate. This is known as neural plasticity, which allows the brain to develop your cognitive, sensory, and motor functions from infancy throughout life. Not all plasticity is beneficial. When input from the cochlea (part of the inner ear involved in hearing) is reduced, this triggers a neuroplastic response that can cause phantom sounds like ringing in your ears.
If you are someone who frequently experiences tinnitus, it’s important to know there are several triggers that can cause it to flare up, or spike. A “tinnitus spike” is when the sound changes in a way that temporarily intensifies suffering. Many think of a tinnitus spike as an increase in volume, but it can also be a change in tone, pitch, or sound. The list below are some of the things that can cause a tinnitus spike. [According to healthy hearing].
- Smoking, alcohol, caffeine, and recreational drugs
- TMJ (jaw pain and clicking)
- Weather changes, pollution, and allergies
- High-salt, or high-sugar diet, dehydration
- Anxiety, depression, stress
- Certain noises, loud noise exposure
- Sleep deprivation
- Certain medications, supplements, and vitamins
Understanding why tinnitus can “spike” will help you predict when it may happen, and how you can cut certain things out of your life that you maybe didn’t know are worsening your problem.
3. How can tinnitus be prevented?
There is no way to prevent tinnitus, and some factors contribute to its development beyond personal control such as aging and genetics. However, it is best to avoid extremely loud environments, such as concert venues. After attending a live music or rock concert, it is common for many people to experience the sensation of ringing in their ears. Exposure to loud music for an extended period of time is very damaging for your hearing, and can cause Noise Induced Hearing Loss (NIHL) and tinnitus to develop. When attending a concert, be mindful of the seats you select. While front row seats are fun, they can have negative long-lasting effects on your hearing health. It’s better to be safe than sorry – choosing a seat at a greater distance will allow you to enjoy the show, and protect your hearing. You could also consider wearing headphones or ear plugs when in noisy environments.
4. What can be done to manage the effects of tinnitus?
There is no medication, surgery, or cure for tinnitus. However, therapy, counseling, and taking care of your well-being can significantly reduce the symptoms of living with tinnitus.
– Sound-based therapy – Sound therapy aims to alter the perception of the perceived tinnitus sound. This type of therapy can be classified into two groups – masking and habituation. Masking describes using background noise to divert your attention from the sound of tinnitus. Habituation describes the process of training your brain to tune out the tinnitus by listening to a similar sound to your tinnitus over a long period of time.
– Hearing Aids – Hearing aids supplement the volume of outside noise and increase the amount of sound stimuli received and processed by the body’s auditory system
– Meditation: Cognitive and behavioral therapies can help reduce tinnitus-related distress and improve the overall quality of life for patients.
– Exercise: Physical activity is an effective solutions for reducing stress, which can help lessen the intensity of your tinnitus symptoms
If you or someone you know experiences tinnitus, our audiologists at Lake Shore Audiology can help. Call us at 716-674-4188 to schedule an appointment today.