Tinnitus is the medical term for “ringing in the ear,” or the experience of hearing sound when no external noise is present. It is a common health condition, with 25 million Americans – roughly 10% of the population – having experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.
The experience of tinnitus can differ on a case by case basis. In acute tinnitus, it is manifested as temporary, minor sounds that come and go. For others, it may become an ongoing chronic issue, causing emotional hardship and a reduced quality of life by affecting sleep, concentration, and mood.
While tinnitus is not a disease or an illness in itself, it is a symptom that could indicate a problem with your hearing pathway or be a sign of underlying health issues. It is important that you do not ignore the ringing in your ears. The first step is to see your doctor and find out if your tinnitus is from an underlying cause that may be easily treated.
Underlying Causes or Conditions
Tinnitus can be caused by a number factors, and is commonly associated with the following health conditions:
- Tinnitus from age-related hearing loss, called presbycusis
- Loud noise exposure
- Accumulation of earwax
- Menieres’s disease – a chronic inner ear condition causing vertigo and hearing loss
- Disorders of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ)
- Head trauma and neck injuries
- Pulsatile tinnitus from blood vessel disorders, such as high blood pressure
- Certain medications
If your doctor is not able to identify an underlying cause, treatment options will focus on managing your symptoms. Although there is currently no approved treatment for tinnitus, holistic approaches make managing the condition less burdensome.
Sound therapy devices: Sound therapy aims to provide relief by changing your perception of tinnitus over time, even if you still hear sounds. There are several device options to consider:
- Ear-level sound generators – Worn like a hearing aid, they deliver predetermined or programmed therapeutic sounds such as rainfall or flowing water. These are appropriate for individuals with minimal hearing loss.
- Hearing aids – They may help to improve speech comprehension in different listening environments.
- Combination units – An ear-level device that combines the amplification of a hearing aid to provide background sound like a sound generator.
Behavioral therapies: These focus on a patient’s emotional reaction to tinnitus and have been shown to reduce related stress, anxiety and depression, while improving overall quality of life. Techniques include:
- Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) – MBSR teaches patients to wholly accept, embrace and control their experience.
- Progressive Tinnitus Management (PTM) – Developed by the US Veterans Administration’s National Center for Rehabilitative Audio Research, PTM involves comprehensive patient education, behavioral therapy, and when appropriate, supplemental sound therapy.
Tinnitus may trigger negative emotional responses, but with the right help and treatment, you can learn to manage the symptoms and enjoy a more fulfilling life. If you are experiencing tinnitus, seek advice from your medical professional to find the right treatment options for you.