Tinnitus is an unfortunately common and frustrating condition. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control, some 50 million Americans – that’s about 15% of the population – suffer from some form of tinnitus. If that wasn’t bad enough, roughly 20 million Americans have a burdensome form of tinnitus that affects their everyday life while another 2 million suffer from a debilitating form of the condition.
While tinnitus is a common condition, it’s widely misunderstood. Thus, here, we’ll take the time to discuss some important and little-known tinnitus facts. Let’s get to it!
What Is Tinnitus?
First and foremost, let’s define what tinnitus is. Tinnitus is a condition wherein an individual perceives a sound in the absence of an external source that could produce said sound. Often people, describe this feeling like a ringing, buzzing, clicking, humming, or whooshing noise in the ear. Other people experience tinnitus as a musical tone or even a pulsing noise that seems to correlate with their heartbeat.
What Is It Like To Experience Tinnitus?
Everyone’s experience with tinnitus is unique. This means that, for some, their tinnitus presents as a constant noise that just doesn’t go away, while for others, the sound comes and goes. Some people may hear multiple different sounds, while others will just hear the same noise, over and over again.
Additionally, for some people with tinnitus, they only hear the noise from one ear while others hear it in both. Conversely, some people with tinnitus experience the noise as coming from within their head.
Who Can Get Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, as we’ve mentioned, is unfortunately common. It is seen in people of all genders, races, ages, and backgrounds. However, due to better research into tinnitus, hearing healthcare providers are starting to see some interesting demographic trends in the condition.
Research has shown that men are more likely to get tinnitus than anyone else. However, researchers believe that this is due to occupational exposure to noises that can cause hearing loss and that have been linked to higher incidences of tinnitus through jobs such as military service, construction, and manufacturing.
Additionally, older populations seem to have a higher rate of tinnitus than younger populations, likely due to an accumulation of exposure to loud noises and their generally high rate of noise-induced hearing loss.
What Causes Tinnitus
Unfortunately, researchers have not been able to identify a particular cause of tinnitus, but it is widely believed that the condition is the result of some sort of mental or physical change within the body. What’s interesting is that these changes don’t actually have to involve the ear.
Researchers have found that tinnitus is associated with excessive noise exposure (both over time and as a result of one incident), hearing loss, a middle ear issue, impacted ear wax, a head or a neck injury, certain medication, or stress. Other times, there is no easily identifiable cause for tinnitus.
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Just as tinnitus has no single cause, correspondingly, there is no single treatment for tinnitus and there is no known cure. That being said, many people simply become habituated to the noise and find that it’s of little consequence, while others have succeeded in finding some sort of way to reduce the effects of tinnitus on their life.
For the significant number of people who do not habituate to their tinnitus, there are a number of different treatment options, each of which has a varying rate of success. If someone’s tinnitus is caused by a fixable underlying cause (such as impacted ear wax), usually, the best course of action is to treat the underlying cause. Often, tinnitus symptoms go away in these conditions once the underlying cause has been addressed.
For other people whose underlying causes are more complex or don’t have any treatment options, there are some tinnitus management programs available through a hearing healthcare provider. Some of these management programs include treatments such as sound enrichment therapy, hearing assistance devices, stress reduction techniques, and cognitive behavioral therapy.
If you or someone you know is suffering from the effects of unmanaged tinnitus, a consultation with your hearing healthcare professional is the first step toward finding the treatment option that’s right for you.