During February, we recognize Tinnitus Awareness Week, making now the perfect time to learn more about this common problem. Have you ever heard a ringing in one or both of your ears that no one else could hear? That’s tinnitus, and it’s said to affect about 15% to 20% of people, and though it’s even more common in older adults, it can affect people of all ages, including children and teens. Here are four more things you should know about tinnitus:
1. Tinnitus is Not a Disease
In fact, rather than a disease in and of itself, tinnitus is more commonly a symptom of another condition, such as age-related hearing loss. In fact, though ear infections, blockages, and even some medications can cause tinnitus, hearing loss is the most common cause.
Hearing loss occurs when the tiny hairs in your inner ear become bent or broken. These hairs are responsible for sending signals to your brain about the sound waves they receive, but once damaged, they are no longer able to send these signals reliably or accurately. Tinnitus occurs when the brain fills in the information gaps with its own sound, or when the damaged hairs send incorrect signals to the brain, causing a ringing that no one else can hear.
2. Tinnitus Doesn’t Sound the Same for Everyone
Though tinnitus is most commonly associated with a high-pitched ringing, it’s important to keep in mind that it can also manifest as other noises, like:
These sounds might be high-pitched or low-pitched; in one ear or in both ears; constant or on and off. Tinnitus can be just a nuisance, or in worse cases, tinnitus can be debilitating, with its sounds growing so loud that the ability to hear and focus on external sounds becomes difficult, if not impossible. Tinnitus can also lead to insomnia, difficulty concentrating, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
Even if your tinnitus is mild, because it often indicates an underlying condition, it’s worth getting in touch with an audiologist if you’re experiencing any level of tinnitus.
3. Tinnitus Can Be Prevented
Though tinnitus can be caused by something unpreventable, we do know how to prevent hearing loss, the most common cause. A good rule of thumb? Avoid or protect your ears from any loud noises. For instance, be sure to monitor the volume of your headphones and how long you’re using them. Because prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause hearing loss and tinnitus (especially those being funneled directly into your ear), this effort can save your hearing.
However, we know that you’re not always in control of the sounds around you. For instance, if you’re at a concert or a sporting event, or if you work a particularly noisy job like construction, protecting your hearing isn’t as simple as just turning the volume down. In these cases, the best way to prevent hearing loss is by using earplugs. Earplugs block your ear canal, protecting the hairs in your inner ear from the intense vibrations of and damage from loud surroundings.
4. Tinnitus Can Be Treated
If you’re experiencing symptoms of tinnitus, it’s important to visit the audiologists at Francis Audiology. Not only can our experts treat the ringing, but they may also be able to treat the cause, especially if hearing loss is to blame.
Because hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus, the best treatments for tinnitus are also hearing loss treatments. Hearing aids are arguably the most popular treatment; by amplifying external sounds, giving the wearer the opportunity to hear things they might otherwise be unable to hear, they reduce the attention given to the internal noises of tinnitus. Typically, utilizing hearing aids for tinnitus gives the wearer partial to total relief.
Another possible treatment is a masker. Maskers are small electronic devices that sit behind the ear like a hearing aid, but unlike a hearing aid, maskers do not amplify external sounds. Instead, maskers emit noises that mask (or cover up) the sounds of tinnitus. Your audiologist, after a consultation, will suggest a treatment that makes the most sense for you and your individual needs.
The audiologists at Francis Audiology want to help treat your tinnitus and get you some relief. Schedule an appointment today with your favorite Pittsburgh area tinnitus specialists, or call (724)-441-8695 for more information.