In the movies, invisibility is a potent tool. Whether it’s a mud-covered hero, a cloaked spaceship, or a stealthy ninja, invisibility allows people in movies to be more effective and, frequently, accomplish the impossible.
Regrettably, invisible health conditions are no less potent…and they’re a lot less enjoyable. Tinnitus, for example, is a really common condition that impacts the ears. Regardless of how good you may look, there are no external symptoms.
But just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean tinnitus doesn’t have a significant affect on people who experience symptoms.
Tinnitus – what is it?
So we know one thing: you can’t see tinnitus. As a matter of fact, tinnitus is a disorder 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. Tinnitus is so prevalent that about 25 million people experience it every day.
There are many other manifestations of tinnitus besides the typical ringing. Some people could hear buzzing, crunching, metallic noises, all sorts of things. Here’s the common denominator, anybody who has tinnitus is hearing noises that aren’t actually there.
For most individuals, tinnitus will be a temporary affair, it will come and go really quickly. But tinnitus is a persistent and incapacitating condition for between 2-5 million people. Think about it like this: hearing that ringing in your ears for five or ten minutes is irritating, but you can distract yourself easily and move on. But what if you can’t get rid of that sound, ever? Obviously, your quality of life would be significantly impacted.
Have you ever attempted to determine the cause of a headache? Maybe it’s stress; maybe you’re getting a cold; perhaps it’s allergies. Lots of things can cause a headache and that’s the issue. The same goes for tinnitus, even though the symptoms might be common, the causes are widespread.
In some cases, it may be really apparent what’s causing your tinnitus symptoms. But you might never really know in other cases. Generally speaking, however, tinnitus might be caused by the following:
- Ear infections or other blockages: Just like a cold or seasonal allergies, ear infections, and other obstructions can cause inflammation in the ear canal. As a result, your ears could start ringing.
- Colds or allergies: If a lot of mucus accumulates in your ears, it could cause some swelling. And tinnitus can be the result of this inflammation.
- Hearing loss: Hearing loss and tinnitus are often closely connected. In part, that’s because noise damage can also be a direct contributor to sensorineural hearing loss. In other words, they both have the same cause. But hearing loss can also worsen tinnitus, when the outside world seems quieter, that ringing in your ears can seem louder.
- Head or neck injuries: Your head is fairly sensitive! Ringing in your ears can be triggered by traumatic brain injuries including concussions.
- Noise damage: Tinnitus symptoms can be triggered by exposure to excessively loud noise over time. One of the top causes of tinnitus is exposure to loud noises and this is quite common. The best way to prevent this kind of tinnitus is to stay away from overly loud places (or use ear protection if avoidance isn’t possible).
- High blood pressure: High blood pressure can trigger tinnitus symptoms for some people. If this is the case, it’s a smart plan to consult your physician in order to help control your blood pressure.
- Meniere’s Disease: This is a condition of the inner ear that can cause a large number of symptoms. Dizziness and tinnitus are amongst the first symptoms to appear. Irreversible hearing loss can happen over time.
- Certain medications: Some over-the-counter or prescription medications can cause you to hear ringing in your ears. Once you stop taking the medication, the ringing will normally go away.
If you’re able to identify the cause of your tinnitus, treating it might become easier. For instance, if an earwax obstruction is causing ringing in your ears, clearing that earwax can relieve your symptoms. But the cause of their tinnitus symptoms may never be identified for some individuals.
How is tinnitus diagnosed?
If your ears ring for a few minutes and then it goes away, it’s not really something that needs to be diagnosed (unless it occurs often). Having said that, it’s never a bad idea to check in with us to schedule a hearing screening.
However, if your tinnitus won’t go away or continues to come back, you should make an appointment with us to get to the bottom of it (or at least start treatment). We will ask you about your symptoms, talk to you about how your quality of life is being impacted, perform a hearing test, and probably discuss your medical history. All of that insight will be used to diagnose your symptoms.
Tinnitus is not a condition that can be cured. The strategy is management and treatment.
If you’re using a particular medication or have a root medical condition, your symptoms will get better when you address the base cause. However, if you’re dealing with chronic tinnitus, there will be no root condition that can be easily addressed.
For individuals with chronic tinnitus then, the idea is to manage your symptoms and help ensure your tinnitus does not negatively affect your quality of life. We can help in a variety of ways. Here are a few of the most prevalent:
- A masking device: This is a device a lot like a hearing aid, except instead of boosting sounds, it masks sound. These devices can be adjusted to your specific tinnitus symptoms, creating just enough sound to make that ringing or buzzing significantly less noticeable.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy: In terms of cognitive behavioral therapy, we may end up referring you to a different provider. This strategy uses therapy to help you learn to disregard the tinnitus sounds.
- A hearing aid: When you have hearing loss, outside sounds get quieter and your tinnitus symptoms become more apparent. The buzzing or ringing will be less apparent when your hearing aid increases the volume of the external world.
The treatment plan that we develop will be custom-designed to your specific tinnitus needs. The objective will be to help you control your symptoms so that you can go back to enjoying your life!
What should you do if you have tinnitus?
Tinnitus may be invisible, but the last thing you should do is pretend it isn’t there. Chances are, those symptoms will only grow worse. You may be able to stop your symptoms from getting worse if you can get in front of them. At the very least, you should invest in hearing protection for your ears, be certain you’re wearing ear plugs or ear muffs whenever you’re around loud noises.
If you have tinnitus that won’t go away (or keeps coming back) make an appointment with us to get a diagnosis.