Is tinnitus driving you crazy? Tinnitus is the name for that annoying buzzing, ringing, or hissing sound you hear in your ears. No one else seems to hear it, but that doesn’t mean you’re imagining things. Approximately 15% of Americans struggle with tinnitus.
So What Exactly is Tinnitus?
If you have tinnitus, you already know how it sounds. Tinnitus can be a ringing, whooshing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, or clicking sound. It can be a high-pitched sound or a low-pitched sound, and you might have it in one ear or in both ears. Tinnitus can be a constant irritation, or it might come and go. Each person experiences tinnitus differently.
What everyone has in common is that no one else can hear their tinnitus. This sound is all in your head, and you’re the only one who can hear it. Tinnitus indicates that your ears aren’t as healthy as they once were, and you may even have a hearing loss.
What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be caused by a number of different factors. Permanent tinnitus can be a sign of a hearing loss, while temporary tinnitus can be a symptom of an ear infection. These are some causes of tinnitus:
- Earwax: Did you know that a buildup of earwax in the ear canal can stop sound waves from getting to your ear? When you have excess earwax in your ear canal, you may experience tinnitus.
- Ear infection: Ear infections are a common cause of temporary tinnitus. During an ear infection, the ear canal or the middle ear can fill with fluid, causing tinnitus and muffling the sounds around you.
- Age-related hearing loss: Hearing loss is the most common cause of tinnitus. The natural aging process can slowly lead to changes in the inner ear, with some cells deteriorating or even dying. When these cells are damaged, they will still sometimes send signals to the brain, even if there are no sounds in the environment. This causes tinnitus.
- Noise-induced hearing loss: This hearing loss also damages the cells in the inner ear. But instead of aging being the cause of the damage, loud noises damage the cells in the ear, leading to hearing loss and tinnitus.
What Are the Risk Factors for Tinnitus?
One of the main risk factors for tinnitus is hearing loss. Damage to the cells in the ear causes both hearing loss and tinnitus, so they often appear together. You may notice tinnitus before the hearing loss, so tinnitus can be an early sign that you have hearing loss.
Another risk factor for tinnitus is smoking. People who smoke are more likely to have tinnitus than people who don’t smoke. High blood pressure is also a risk factor for tinnitus.
Is It Hard to Live with Tinnitus?
Everyone experiences tinnitus differently. If you have a mild or temporary tinnitus, it probably won’t have much of an impact on your life. Mild tinnitus often comes and goes, and it’s relatively easy to ignore.
Moderate or severe tinnitus can be very hard to live with. If you have permanent tinnitus, it can fill your head with noise day and night. Tinnitus makes it hard to focus on tasks, concentrate on what you’re doing, or even have a quiet conversation with your loved ones. This kind of tinnitus also makes it extremely difficult to sleep. During the night when the house is quiet, your tinnitus will seem especially loud and irritating.
With tinnitus, you may be more irritable than usual and feel tired during the day. Tinnitus often leads to increased stress, anxiety, and even depression.
How to Treat Tinnitus
Treating tinnitus depends on the kind of tinnitus you have, and your normal coping methods. There is no cure for tinnitus, so treatment focuses on reducing stress levels, and helping you feel relaxed and calm even with tinnitus.
Common tinnitus coping strategies include:
- Relaxation exercises
- Breathing exercises
- Meditation and mindfulness practices
- Reducing caffeine and alcohol intake
Sound Masking Programs
An effective way to treat tinnitus is with a sound masking program. If you use a white noise machine or fan to sleep, you have a basic idea of how sound masking works. Many modern hearing aids have sound masking programs that will play music, nature sounds, or white noise in your ears to mask tinnitus. This will relieve tinnitus symptoms and reduce stress.