woman plugging her ears
woman plugging her ears

Tinnitus – What Is It and How Do You Treat It?

So you’ve noticed your ears are ringing and you’ve heard about a condition called tinnitus. But what exactly is it? More importantly, is there anything you can do to stop it? Read ahead to learn more.

The word tinnitus comes from the Latin tinnire which means, "to ring." Characterized by an incessant ringing sensation, buzzing or whistling sensation in the ears, the condition has afflicted famous individuals including former U.S. president Ronald Reagan, Coldplay frontman Chris Martin, Star Trek superstars William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, and even the famous naturalist Charles Darwin. 
So, what exactly is tinnitus?

Tinnitus Is NOT Just "Hearing Things"

Tinnitus is not a psychological condition and those who suffer from it are not just "hearing things." But tinnitus is not a disease. Rather it’s a set of symptoms that can have a range of underlying causes. In fact, tinnitus is a symptom of more than 75% of disorders that affect our ears.
  • A build-up of earwax or earwax impaction
  • Diabetes-related sensorineural hearing loss
  • Ototoxic (toxic to the ear) medications
  • Thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, or Lyme disease
  • Meniere’s diseasea disorder of the inner ear
  • Jaw misalignment, head and neck trauma, or strained neck muscles due to arthritis or TMJ
  • Acoustic neuromaa tumor that develops in the vestibular cochlear nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain
  • Problems with blood flow in arteries of the head or neck
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Hypertension
The degree and type of the tinnitus noise varies greatly between individuals. For some it can be quite loud while for others it's merely a minor irritating presence. For some people both ears are affected, for others just one. And it's certainly not uncommon. Estimates put the current number of current at 50 million.

Who Is Most at Risk for Tinnitus?

Generally speaking, men are at greater risk of experiencing tinnitus than women. Experts attribute this tendency based on men’s greater exposure to what is called high-risk hearing behavior. Hunting, shooting, recreational vehicles and working in high-noise environments like manufacturing and construction can also be associated with the effects of tinnitus.

Of course, this does not mean that women or children are not at risk to experience tinnitus. Anyone subjected to loud noise exposure, ear trauma and other high-risk factors might also experience tinnitus.

The Connection Between Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

Most people (about 90%) who suffer from tinnitus suffer from hearing loss, as well. Someone may not even notice that they are experiencing hearing loss until they experience tinnitus. Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss—it is a symptom of it.

Tinnitus usually follows a pattern of hearing loss, meaning if you have trouble hearing high frequencies, your tinnitus is usually a high-pitched ringing or hissing. If you have tinnitus in only one ear, you usually only have hearing loss in that ear.

Exposure to loud noises can temporarily cause hearing loss and/or tinnitus. Ever attended a loud concert only to get back to your car and have trouble hearing the friends who went with you? Or experience a ringing in your ears after watching a fireworks show up close? Most often, hearing loss from this type of exposure is accompanied by tinnitus.

What You Can Do About Tinnitus

The first thing to do if you suspect you have tinnitus or any other hearing-related condition is to see a medical professional to rule out major medical conditions as the primary cause of your symptoms. After your doctor has confirmed that you do not suffer from a medical condition, it's time to turn to a hearing care professional who can advise you about next steps, which might include hearing aids if your tinnitus is a symptom of hearing loss.
Some of the best treatment options your hearing care professional may recommend include:

The best hearing aids for tinnitus

Many tinnitus patients, especially those with hearing loss, experience complete or partial relief from tinnitus by using hearing aids.
For those with age-related hearing loss, tinnitus is often related to the loss of ambient sounds. By restoring those ambient sounds to an individual (if the hearing loss is in the same frequency range as the tinnitus), hearing aids may effectively eliminate the tinnitus. 

Many of today’s hearing aids also come with either built-in or accessory-based features that include options for treating the effects of tinnitus. These methods tend to use white noise or other sound-based methods that essentially mask the more distracting or distressing sounds of tinnitus that can cause people so much stress.

The best app for tinnitus

To support the tinnitus relief offered by our hearing aids, Beltone developed the Tinnitus Calmer App, available for free on the Apple App Store or on Google Play. The Tinnitus Calmer App is a combination of sound therapy and relaxation exercises to "distract" your brain. The app features a variety of "sound-scapes" you can customize, plus you can add your own music and even pick colors for the app that you find the most calming. This app is a good step towards controlling your emotions related to tinnitus, helping you to "recondition" your reaction and thereby reduce the stress that can make tinnitus worse.
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