Health & Wellness Series: Tinnitus

JULY 23, 2019

Tinnitus. What is it? And how do I even pronounce it?


Pronunciation

According to the American Medical Association (AMA), both variations, /tin-uh-tus/ and /tin-night-us/, are medically acceptable.  This is good news because it means you can pronounce tinnitus exactly the way you just read it!  Now that we’ve cleared the air, let’s move on to discussing some of the more fun educational details about tinnitus.

What is it?

Many of our patients describe their tinnitus as a constant ringing, buzzing, crackling, or clicking sound.  I’ve even had one patient describe it as “space noise.”

Tinnitus is defined by experts as “the perception of sound in the absence of external sound.” This may sound tricky, but basically what it means is that you’re hearing a sound that isn’t there.  I’m sure some of your minds are running wild.  You might be thinking things like “You’re saying I’m delusional,” or “I’m hearing things,” or “Does this mean I have an overactive imagination?”  No, I am not saying any of this.  There are actually some very clear and easy to understand reasons for why tinnitus occurs.

When should I seek medical Attention?

Some amount of tinnitus is normal and everyone experiences it at one point or another in their lifetime.  If your tinnitus only lasts a few seconds or minutes and only occurs a few times a month, then you likely don’t have anything to worry about.  However, if it is frequent, lasts a long time, or you suspect that you have suffered hearing damage from loud noise exposure, then I recommend scheduling an appointment with your Audiologist (cough* cough* Me!)

Causes

Tinnitus can be multi-factorial, meaning that there might be multiple causes for it.  However, following a hearing test and an in-depth discussion about your overall health we can usually pinpoint the likely causes.  You might be wondering why a hearing test for tinnitus is necessary, but research shows that up to 90% of tinnitus is due to some amount of noise induced hearing loss.  You may not think you have hearing loss, but noise induced hearing loss is very subtle and may not be noticeable at first and it may one be one of the contributing factors for your tinnitus.

In addition to hearing loss the following underlying conditions might cause or elevate the severity of your tinnitus:

  • Earwax Build Up:

    Earwax build up is a fairly common and easily treated cause of tinnitus.  If you suspect that you have excess earwax build up schedule an appointment with your Audiologist.

  • Stress (Physiologic and Emotional):

    Physical and emotional stress is known to elevate blood pressure and lead to many additional health conditions, including Tinnitus.  Things that may cause an increase in stress may be a demanding job, working too many hours in a week, not getting enough sleep, a physical illness, poor family dynamics, depression, and anxiety. If you are suffering from elevated anxiety or depression we highly recommend working with a professional who can help you heal and recover from past events that may be causing your anxiety or depression.  There is no shame in this; only power, healing, and life.

  • Diet:

    Diet is a major factor in reducing the intensity and frequency of tinnitus.  Common mistakes like consuming too much sodium (i.e. from processed food, red meats, etc.), not drinking enough water, drinking too much caffeine, and, yes, eating too much cheese and chocolate may all elevate the severity of your tinnitus. Simple changes to your diet and physical activity could reduce or eliminate your Tinnitus.

  • High Blood Pressure:

    The hearing organ is very sensitive to changes in blood pressure.  Any change in blood pressure runs the risk of permanently damaging the hearing organ as well as causing tinnitus. If you have or suspect that you have high blood pressure, please follow up with your physician for testing/treatment.  Doing so could substantially improve the quality of your life.

  • Diabetes:

    High blood sugar is known to damage blood vessels, including those inside the hearing organ.  If you have or suspect that you have diabetes, please follow up with your physician.  Ignoring the symptoms of diabetes could lead to irreversible health conditions that may permanently affect your quality of life.

  • Medication:

    Certain medication like antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory medications, and more may cause tinnitus.  If you suspect that your medication may be causing certain side-effects including tinnitus, please speak with the prescribing physician and let them know of your concerns.  They may be able to adjust the dose or prescribe a different medication.

  • Neck Pain or Neck Injuries:

    neck pain and neck injuries are strongly connected with tinnitus.  There have been several cases where individuals with neck pain noticed a reduction in or full resolution of tinnitus following chiropractic care.  If you have neck pain or have had previous neck injuries we highly recommend that you seek out chiropractic care.

  • Other Physical Conditions:

    during your appointment we like to find out more about your tinnitus and overall health because tinnitus can be related to other underlying medical conditions like Meniere’s Disease, Middle Ear Myoclonus, Glomus Jugulare Tumors, and More.  Please do not try to self-diagnose any of these other conditions or assume the worst.

Treatment

There may be multiple ways in which your Tinnitus is treated.  Treatment depends on the suspected cause(s) of your tinnitus.  As previously discussed, up to 90% of all cases of Tinnitus involve Hearing Loss.  This is why I find that the most common treatment for Tinnitus is Hearing Aids.  The next most frequent treatments are adjustments to diet, learning how to better manage stress, and adjusting medication.

It may sound silly that Hearing Aids could fix tinnitus, but the reason is simple.  The most common cause of Tinnitus is a misfiring of neurons in the brain caused by damage to the sensory cells in the hearing organ.  When we fit an individual with Hearing Aids the sensory cells within the hearing organ are stimulated appropriately and begin to send correct signals to the neurons in the brain.  As a result, the majority of and sometimes all perceived ringing, buzzing, or clicking are eliminated.

Additional strategies for treating tinnitus do exist for rare cases where tinnitus can’t be treated by hearing aids, changes to diet, changes to medication, or medical intervention (i.e. chiropractic care).  The first is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  This is essentially a therapy program in which the brain is retrained to ignore the tinnitus and focus on the surrounding environment.  It is essentially designed to reduce the emotional stress associated with your perceived ringing.  This strategy has been proven to be effective for some individuals.  Another strategy for individuals is to use a form of masking to cover up the tinnitus.  This might include give the brain background noise to focus on like music, a fan, or the TV.

Up to 90% of all tinnitus is linked to damage from Noise Induced Hearing Loss.

If interested in learning more, check out the following resources!

American Tinnitus Association

Mayo Clinic

At Restoration Hearing we offer the following recommendations for championing the fight against tinnitus:

  1. Schedule a Hearing Test with your Audiologist.
     
  2. Learn about the risks for hearing loss and take measure to protect your ears against damage from loud noise.

     

  3. See your physician or appropriate medical professional if you suspect you have other health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, anxiety, depression, and neck pain/injury.

 

 

Thank you for taking time to read our blog post.  Please stay tuned for our next post!

Yours Truly,

Dr. Michael P. Cleary, Au.D., CCC-A