Tinnitus is a ringing, hissing, buzzing or roaring sound perceived by an individual in the absence of an actual external sound source. Though some are unbothered by tinnitus, many find it burdensome or even debilitating. Tinnitus is not a disease, but is instead a symptom of an underlying health problem. In fact, there are around 200 different health disorders that can cause tinnitus. In most cases, it is not a sign of a serious illness or condition.
It is best to see your hearing health provider or your family physician to determine if there are any underlying health issues that may cause tinnitus.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus may be a result of hearing loss, stress, side effect of medication or other underlying diseases of the ear or brain. Underlying causes of tinnitus are quite varied, but the most common reason for tinnitus is damage to the tiny sensory hair cells of the cochlea in the inner ear. Risk factors include sustained or continuous exposure to loud sounds, including in the workplace or at a concert. Other causes of tinnitus may include:
- Obstructions in the middle ear
- Head and neck trauma
- Ear infections
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Ménière’s disease
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- Sinus pressure and barometric trauma
- Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
One way to try to prevent tinnitus is to limit your exposure to loud noises. Sounds above 85 decibels are considered loud and any continuous exposure could lead to hearing loss and possibly tinnitus. To give you an idea of how loud that is, a leaf blower is about 85 dB, while a motorcycle sits at about 100 dB and a music concert is about 110 dB.
Four ways to prevent tinnitus:
- Step away from any loud sounds.
- Use hearing protection like earplugs or earmuffs.
- Turn down the volume on your electronic devices like your smartphone or headphones.
- Consider downloading an app that measures noise levels and sets a limit on how loud you can listen to audio and video content on your devices.
How is tinnitus treated?
Tinnitus can sometimes be relieved by listening to white noise, nature sounds or music. Tinnitus is most commonly reported as bothersome when an individual is in a quiet setting. For example, many patients complain of tinnitus when trying to fall asleep at night. If tinnitus keeps you awake at night, try using a white noise machine or a box fan to “mask” the tinnitus. If tinnitus is a result of hearing loss, hearing aids often help to diminish the perception of tinnitus because the brain is stimulated with sounds that it does not usually hear.
Tinnitus can create undue stress. We want to help patients to understand their tinnitus and develop lifestyle strategies to better manage it. It is important to check with your doctor if you experience tinnitus; particularly if it is a new symptom, if it is heard only in one ear or if it is pulsatile (sounds like a heartbeat).
Information provided by Danielle Dupuis, AuD, CCC-A, an audiologist at the UT Health East Texas ENT Center on Three Lakes Parkway in Tyler. If you are suffering from tinnitus, call 903-747-4098 to schedule an appointment.