Tinnitus is a condition characterized by a ringing of the ears. A common assumption is that tinnitus can lead to hearing loss. However, this isn’t the case. In reality, they exist separately but often together. Severe tinnitus can hinder your hearing, but it is not the cause.
Hidden hearing loss is hearing loss due to increased background noise. The humming or buzzing that is associated with tinnitus can be so persistent that there is a resulting hearing loss. But, even with hearing loss, that does not mean you will go deaf, and treating hearing loss and tinnitus may be possible by using hearing aids. These can include masking devices.
How Does Tinnitus Happen?
Tinnitus can be caused by many things and could be the result of other underlying medical conditions. It can often be treated or even reversed. Sometimes, however, even after the underlying issue is treated, tinnitus will persist. One of the key connections to hearing loss is that over 90% of tinnitus sufferers have some level of noise damage hearing loss.
Noise exposure can permanently damage the cochlea in your inner ear. Prolonged exposure experienced in certain professions such as musical trades, construction work, and working with heavy machinery or airplanes, among other factors, can put you at risk of tinnitus. However, even a single experience with sudden extreme loudness can be damaging enough to cause tinnitus.
Many conditions and illnesses can also be responsible for the tinnitus.
- Ear blockages and wax build-up
- Ear infections
- Auditory nerve disruptions (such as a cyst)
- Drug-related side effects – Aspirin, antidepressants, anxiety medication, sedatives, and over 200 other drugs list tinnitus as a possible side effect
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ syndrome
- Head injury
- High blood pressure
- Underactive thyroid
Many conditions may be responsible if you are experiencing tinnitus. Some can be easily treated and addressed, and often, once the underlying problem is treated, the tinnitus will potentially reverse. There are also cases where it may be indicative of a larger and more serious condition. If you experience dizziness, this could indicate Ménière’s disease, and you should seek medical attention right away.
Finding The Problem
Consulting your doctor should be the first step with any experience of tinnitus. With a detailed medical examination of your ears, a doctor can assess the likely causes of your tinnitus and help guide what can and should be done going forward. If your doctor can not pinpoint the reason for your tinnitus after an examination, they may refer you to an otologist, an otolaryngologist, or even an audiologist, to check for potential hearing and nerve problems.
Specialists may use imaging technology such as MRI or CT scan to view and assess possible structural damages.
Some tinnitus goes away spontaneously without treatment. Some can persist and not diminish no matter the underlying cause. More specific causes require more specific treatments.
If earwax build-up is responsible, thorough medical cleaning procedure could be all that’s needed. This procedure will include the removal of wax, suction, cleaning, draining, and rinsing your ear. If an infection is responsible, treatment with ear drops may be necessary. These drops can include properties that reduce inflammation, itching, and irritation.
Growths on or around your cochlea, whether from a cyst, benign tumor, or calcium deposit build-up, are incredibly rare, and very unlikely to be the cause of tinnitus. However, it is possible and could require surgery.
TMJ syndrome will require a consultation with a dental specialist for proper assessment and treatment.
There has been researched into possible medicative treatment for some cases of tinnitus. Anti-anxiety medications, antidepressants, and steroid or hormone treatments have all shown to be effective for some individuals experiencing tinnitus.
Lidocaine has proven effective, though the risks associated with its use far surpass the potential for tinnitus treatment.
If your tinnitus is caused by an underlying condition, treatment of this condition could reduce and/or reverse the tinnitus symptoms.
If your tinnitus persists after treatment or is related to auditory damage, use of a masking device may be recommended to mask the low and constant background noise that you are experiencing. Tinnitus maskers are small, in-ear devices that resemble hearing aids. Some are even combined with hearing aids to help to mask and alter the perceived background noise sound being experienced.
These devices allow for a more pleasant and ultimately less mentally straining experience. Conjunction with other hearing aids could be necessary.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)
TRT (not to be confused with testosterone replacement therapy), involves the individual training their brain’s ability to habituate sounds. Habituation happens naturally. We can tune out things of lesser importance to focus on more prominent stimuli. The brain can do this easily with white noise and low auditory level sounds.
These sounds are not perceived as loud and can be screened out of the conscious perceptive forefront (refrigerator hum, air conditioners, lights buzzing, rainfall, wind sounds, etc.)
This therapy involves listening to neutral sounds everywhere the patient goes. This can be done with in-ear devices and is specifically designed for proper training and progression. This physical, auditory therapy is combined with one on one counseling. TRT can be very effective in the hands of the right professional.
It can be something that happens quickly and never leaves. It can be something that happens gradually, and spontaneously disappears. There are, in fact, so many scenarios that can be involved in causing tinnitus. Whether it is a temporary burden or a permanent debilitating condition.
Treatment is often possible, even in long term or severe cases. With careful consultation and assessment, finding the right approach can be achieved. Lifestyle changes can be important as well. It can often be exacerbated by dietary choices, drug and alcohol use, and physical exertion.
It can also be experienced more presently in quiet situations. Adding other sounds to quieter situations can help, such as listening to soft music, leaving the radio on, and introducing white noise. It can come along with hearing loss. Hearing loss can come along with tinnitus.
But they do not cause each other, and they should be treated as the separate conditions they are, even when those treatments can also be related to each other.
4. TMJ Pain