Have you ever noticed a ringing sound in your ears that doesn’t seem to have any external cause? If so, you’ve experienced tinnitus, a type of noise perception that can be temporary, permanent or intermittent.
Although tinnitus is often thought of as “ringing” in the ears, it could also sound like whistling, crackling, chirping, buzzing or hissing. It could be so subtle it’s barely noticeable, or it could be so intense it sounds piercing or painful to the ears.
Although tinnitus if a widespread condition that affects millions of people, why it occurs is somewhat of a mystery. Research suggests it may have to do with damage or destruction of tiny hair cells in the inner ear. Normally, these hair cells transfer noise waves into electrical signals that can be sent to the brain and perceived as sound. The inability to carry out this function is what experts believe causes the strange sounds associated with tinnitus.
Some people experience tinnitus so infrequently, they barely give occasional ear ringing a second thought. For others, it is so persistent and intense, it interferes with their ability to concentrate or sleep. Tinnitus can be a great source of anxiety and stress, which unfortunately can cause the condition to worsen.
People who experience tinnitus may seek treatment to alleviate the distress or annoyance it can cause. Although it can be treated, tinnitus is actually usually a symptom of another medical condition rather than a disease itself. Many different things can cause tinnitus, including ear wax build up, ototoxic drugs, hearing loss, certain diseases and even stress.
Treating tinnitus usually begins with trying to identify and alleviate underlying causes. If a certain medication is causing ringing in your ears, it may be stopped by simply discontinuing drug treatment. In other cases, the underlying cause may not be fully treatable.
In such cases, special training to help you ignore tinnitus may be needed. Sometime background noise such as that produced by a fan can help lessen tinnitus. White noise generators are also sometimes used to mask tinnitus and provide relief from this irritating condition.
If hearing loss or damage is the underlying cause, hearing aids can be very helpful at alleviating tinnitus. When other sounds can be heard with the use of hearing amplification devices, tinnitus noise is diminished. Many people experiencing hearing loss find that with properly fitted and adjusted hearing devices, tinnitus is alleviated almost instantly.
Although you may initially seek treatment for tinnitus with your regular doctor, it’s likely you’ll be referred to a qualified hearing health specialist for evaluation and treatment. A hearing professional can evaluate the pitch, duration, intensity and other factors associated with your individual tinnitus experience. He or she can also test and evaluate your hearing for other associated symptoms such as hearing loss.
Although tinnitus isn’t always completely treatable, in many cases symptoms can be minimized if not fully alleviated. It’s important to seek treatment as soon as you notice tinnitus is becoming regular or increasing in duration, pitch or intensity. This can help ensure any underlying medical conditions are treated sooner rather than later when they may worsen or advance.