Invisibility is a very useful power in the movies. Whether it’s a mud-covered hero, a cloaked spaceship, or a sneaky ninja, invisibility allows characters in movies to be more effectual and, often, accomplish the impossible.
Unfortunately, invisible health problems are no less potent…and they’re a lot less enjoyable. Tinnitus, for example, is a really common condition that affects the ears. But there are no external symptoms, it doesn’t matter how well you look.
But for people who experience tinnitus, though it may be invisible, the impact may be considerable.
What is tinnitus?
One thing we recognize for sure about tinnitus is that it can’t be seen. In fact, tinnitus is a condition of the ears, which means symptoms are auditory in nature. You know that ringing in your ears you sometimes hear after a rock concert or in a really silent room? That’s tinnitus. Now, tinnitus is pretty common (something like 25 million people experience tinnitus yearly).
There are lots of other manifestations of tinnitus besides the common ringing. Some people could hear buzzing, crunching, metallic noises, all kinds of things. The common denominator is that anybody who has tinnitus is hearing sounds that aren’t actually there.
In most situations, tinnitus will go away quickly. But tinnitus is a long-term and incapacitating condition for between 2-5 million people. Sure, it can be a bit annoying to hear that ringing for a few minutes now and again. But what if you can’t be free from that sound, ever? Obviously, your quality of life would be substantially affected.
What causes tinnitus?
Have you ever had a headache and attempted to figure out the cause? Maybe it’s stress; maybe you’re getting a cold; perhaps it’s allergies. The trouble is that lots of issues can cause headaches! The symptoms of tinnitus, though fairly common, also have a large number of causes.
The cause of your tinnitus symptoms might, in some cases, be evident. But you might never really know in other situations. Generally speaking, however, tinnitus might be caused by the following:
- Noise damage: Damage from loud noises can, after a while, cause tinnitus symptoms to happen. One of the top causes of tinnitus is exposure to loud noises and this is quite prevalent. The best way to prevent this type of tinnitus is to stay away from overly loud places (or use ear protection if avoidance isn’t possible).
- Colds or allergies: Inflammation can occur when a lot of mucus backs up in your ears. This swelling can cause tinnitus.
- Hearing loss: Hearing loss and tinnitus are frequently closely associated. Sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus can both be caused by noise damage and that’s a large part of the equation here. In other words, both of them have the same cause. But hearing loss can also worsen tinnitus, when the rest of the world seems quieter, that ringing in your ears can become louder.
- Ear infections or other blockages: Just like a cold or seasonal allergies, ear infections, and other obstructions can cause swelling in the ear canal. This often causes ringing in your ears.
- Head or neck injuries: The head and neck are incredibly sensitive systems. Ringing in your ears can be brought on by traumatic brain injuries including concussions.
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can cause tinnitus symptoms for some people. If this is the situation, it’s a smart plan to check with your doctor in order to help control your blood pressure.
- Certain medications: Some over-the-counter or prescription drugs can cause you to hear ringing in your ears. Once you stop taking the medication, the ringing will normally go away.
- Meniere’s Disease: Quite a few symptoms can be caused by this disorder of the inner ear. Tinnitus and dizziness are amongst the first symptoms to manifest. Irreversible hearing loss can happen over time.
If you’re able to determine the cause of your tinnitus, treatment may become easier. Clearing a blockage, for example, will ease tinnitus symptoms if that’s what is causing them. But the cause of their tinnitus symptoms might never be known for some people.
If you have ringing in your ears for a few minutes and then it recedes, it’s not really something that needs to be diagnosed (unless it occurs often). Still, having regular hearing tests is always a smart plan.
But you should definitely make an appointment with us if your tinnitus won’t go away or if it continues to come back. We will ask you about your symptoms, talk to you about how your quality of life is being impacted, do a hearing exam, and most likely discuss your medical history. Your symptoms can then be diagnosed utilizing this information.
How is tinnitus treated?
There’s no cure for tinnitus. But it can be addressed and it can be managed.
If you’re using a specific medication or have an underlying medical condition, your symptoms will improve when you address the base cause. However, if you have chronic tinnitus, there will be no underlying condition that can be easily corrected.
For those with chronic tinnitus then, the idea is to manage your symptoms and help make sure your tinnitus doesn’t negatively impact your quality of life. There are a number of things that we can do to help. Here are a few of the most common:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: In terms of cognitive behavioral therapy, we may end up referring you to a different provider. This is a therapeutic approach created to help you not notice the ringing in your ears.
- A masking device: This is a device much like a hearing aid, except instead of boosting sounds, it masks sound. These devices generate just the right amount and type of sound to make your particular tinnitus symptoms fade into the background.
- A hearing aid: When you have hearing loss, external sounds become quieter and your tinnitus symptoms become more obvious. In these situations, a hearing aid can help turn the volume up on the rest of the world, and overpower the buzzing or ringing you might be hearing from your tinnitus.
The treatment plan that we formulate will be custom-designed to your specific tinnitus requirements. Helping you get back to enjoying your life by managing your symptoms is the objective here.
If you have tinnitus, what should you do?
Tinnitus may be invisible, but the last thing you should do is act like it isn’t there. Your symptoms will likely get worse if you do. It’s better to get ahead of your symptoms because you might be able to stop them from getting worse. You should at least be sure to have your ear protection handy whenever you’re going to be around loud sound.
If you’re struggling with tinnitus, contact us, we can help.