What is tinnitus?
An estimated 25 million Americans have already experienced noise or ringing in the ears, or Tinnitus, in the past years. Common triggers include acute hearing loss, excessive noise, impaired blood circulation, stress, or misalignment of the cervical spine or jaw joint.
Tinnitus can occur in one ear (left or right) or both. The noises originate in the head and ear canal rather than outside the body. There are about 200 health disorders that could cause tinnitus sounds. One of the most frequent reasons for ear ringing is hearing loss. The damage could be caused by age related factors, noise factors or both. Speaking with a hear.com expert can help you understand if you have hearing loss that may have gone unnoticed.
The sounds experienced by people vary in volume, intensity and type. Some noises sound like high-pitched ringing while others sound like an airplane engine. Other types of noises are similar to the sounds of wind blowing, a rainstorm, or a tea kettle whistling. People experience intermittent or constant sounds. Whatever type of sound experienced, the noise disrupts a person’s life. A person may never have relief from constant ear noise.
About forty percent of the population will experience unpleasant ear ringing at some point in their lifetime. Ten to twenty percent will experience chronic tinnitus (a duration of over three months). Symptoms most commonly occur in people over the age of 40. However, people of all ages are susceptible to some form of disruptive and persistent ear ringing.
Carefully read the information below so that you can identify the symptoms, causes, and available treatments. Please call hear.com to speak with an expert about your questions. We will explain tinnitus in further depth, discuss your symptoms, and, if you like, set an appointment for you with a hearing specialist. Call us today!
Tinnitus and hearing aids
More than fifty percent of tinnitus sufferers also have a loss of hearing. When hearing loss occurs, the brain may lose its ability to process certain sounds and frequencies. Ear ringing may occur as the brain changes in response to hearing loss. Therefore, as hearing aids help restore the brain’s ability to process certain sounds and frequencies, ear ringing may be reduced or alleviated altogether.
The use of hearing aids with so-called tinnitus noisers can effectively relieve tinnitus and hearing loss. The tinnitus noiser counteracts the beeping and whistling by producing a signal that cancels out the distracting noises. It produces a continuous noise that the person perceives as pleasant. It is quieter than tinnitus itself and has a calming effect on the auditory system and consequently the neural pathway to the brain relaying auditory sensations. This enables the brain to re-learn how to focus on noises in the external environment and minimizes or completely eradicates the fixation on the ear noise. The brain has filter systems that categorize sounds as important or not important. After a while, due to the constant signal produced by the noiser, both the noiser and the tinnitus are categorized as not important. An effective reprogramming of the brain is achieved by so-called noise generators, positioned either behind both ears or worn in the ear. This therapy helps the brain become accustomed to sounds and after a certain time, fade them out. The result: tinnitus is not sensed anymore.
Currently, wearing hearing aids for tinnitus is the best solution. Many people with hearing loss find effective relief with these kinds of sound-increasing devices. According to this research: “Clinical evidence shows that the use of hearing aids in tinnitus patients provides two benefits: it makes the patient less aware of the tinnitus and it improves communication by reducing the annoying sensation that sounds and voices are masked by the tinnitus.”
Leading companies in the hearing aid sector have specialized in these devices due to the high number people experiencing ear ringing.
If tinnitus is present for more than three days, one should go to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor. To make a diagnosis the doctor usually begins by asking key questions to assess the patient’s condition and discover possible causes. The doctor will then examine the ear canal and the eardrum by means of an otoscope (basically a magnifying glass, mirror and a light) to check for damage to the ear. In many cases a hearing test is carried out to understand related and causal factors. The ENT doctor also conducts a series of other medical tests to provide a firm diagnosis.
- Examine the throat, nose and ears
- Subjective hearing test
- Analyze the noise in the ear; test the noise emission of the inner ear (otoacoustic emissions)
- Test for any balance disorders
- Objective hearing test (auditory brainstem response)
Methods to diagnose tinnitus:
- Blood analysis
- MRT of the skull (magnetic resonance tomography)
- CT of the skull (computer tomography)
- Examine the neck vertebrae and the jaw
What is a subjective hearing test?
A subjective hearing test checks the patient’s perception of sound in the ears. While in a soundproof room, the patient listens to different sounds in a variety of frequencies via headphones. The patient indicates to the specialist the instant the sound becomes audible. This allows the ENT doctor to firstly establish any hearing loss and then to try to determine if the ear ringing is related to the hearing loss.
What are otoacoustic emissions?
Otoacoustic emissions (OAE) are active sound emissions, originating from the inner ear, which are often present, but not perceived. OAE occur due to movements of the exterior hair sensory cells. The OAE measurements are carried out using a small probe in the outer auditory canal. There are two types of otoacoustic emissions to distinguish. Objective audiometry measures the sound emissions, testing the functioning of the external hair sensory cells. Clinically relevant hearing disorders can be deduced from this.
Forms of tinnitus
Acute and chronic tinnitus
Acute tinnitus occurs when an unpleasant ear noise suddenly appears and remains for up to three months. In the case of chronic ear ringing, the noises remain longer than the three months and may remain perceptible in the long term. Acute ear ringing is usually healed spontaneously or the patient recovers from the symptoms. The longer the ear noise remains, however, the higher the possibility of chronic illness.
Subjective tinnitus refers to an ear noise that can only be heard by that person. Most tinnitus cases are subjective. Subjective tinnitus is caused by a mistake in processing at the points of sound transmission and sound perception. There can be a dysfunction in the area of the middle ear right down to the cortex. For instance, ear noises occur through insufficient absorption of high sound pressure by the muscle in the middle ear.
There are a number of possible causes of subjective ear ringing. Often ear noises become audible when a foreign substance enters or during a middle ear infection. A number of illnesses or stressors can trigger subjective tinnitus. Sudden deafness or hearing loss is generally accepted as a cause of ear ringing.
In summary: subjective tinnitus at a glance
- Foreign substances in the auditory canal (e.g. a build up of ear wax)
- An ear infection (otitis media or externa)
- Viral and bacterial infections (e.g. borreliosis)
- Middle ear diseases disturbing sound transmission e.g. otosclerosis
- Noise trauma (acute or chronic)
- Sudden deafness
- Diving accidents
- Autoimmune disease of the inner ear
- Ototoxic substances
- A tumor on the hearing nerves (acoustic neuroma)
- Difficulty hearing (hypoacusis)
- Problems with the neck vertebrae or in the teeth and jaw area trigger or increase the symptoms
Tinnitus in old age
Around 48 million people in the USA have hearing difficulties – brought about by various causes, such as specific diseases, strong medication or sudden deafness. Current figures estimate 10–15% of the population have tinnitus (for 2014). This illness cannot, however, be entirely placed into one age bracket. Children can also experience persistent ear ringing. Nonetheless, the majority of people with ear ringing are 50 or older. Furthermore, occurrences are diagnosed more frequently in women than men.
Recent years have also seen an increasing frequency of ear ringing in youths and young adults. This increase in young tinnitus patients is caused, above all, by increasing contact with loud noise levels through music venues and the use of headphones and MP3 players. It is important that children and teens manage the volume levels of music and TVs to prevent hearing loss. It is also important to regularly check hearing, especially in children and teens.
hear.com is here to advise and help you improve the health of your ears. Please contact us for more information about hearing aids with the tinnitus noiser.