Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears, but it's not actually that simple. Tinnitus is fairly common but also fairly misunderstood. The sounds I'm referring to are sometimes called phantom noises or non-existent sounds (although they can be quite loud to those affected).The biggest misconception about tinnitus is that only older people get it. Younger people can and do get tinnitus too; many studies show that up to 10% of younger adults report having tinnitus to some degree. More recent research (2015) shows this number has now increased to 16%.
Tinnitus isn't just an annoying occurrence for the oldies – although it has been recorded as such for thousands of years. Between 5% and 15% of the population experience tinnitus to some degree, but many do not realise they have it unless their tinnitus is very loud. It's only when the sound becomes persistent and/or annoying that people look for help – at which point, roughly one in six will report having had the condition for longer than five years (2012 study). At this point it can be debilitating enough to interfere with your work, sleep and social life.
It used to be thought that damage to hair cells in the inner ear was responsible for tinnitus;
however, we now know that this isn't necessarily true. Tinnitus is a indication of an underlying state rather than a condition in itself.
Tinnitus can be triggered by many different things – old age, too much alcohol, whiplash injury and general ear infections being just some examples.
There are people who experience tinnitus following the sudden loss of hearing that often accompanies exposure to very loud noise (acoustic trauma). This type of tinnitus is typically described as "ringing in the ears" and can carry on long after the noise has stopped (tinnitus persisting perception disorder – or TPP). If you've been exposed to extremely loud noise and subsequently experience any sort of ringing or hissing sound, go to your GP immediately as it could be early warning sign of damage to your ears.
The biggest misconception about tinnitus is that it's somehow "self-inflicted".
Tinnitus isn't something you do to yourself; it's the name for a symptom rather than an illness or condition
(although there are some very rare causes of tinnitus). The most usual cause of tenacious tinnitus is all too often neglected: otosclerosis.
This is when soundwaves aren't conducted efficiently through the ear canal, so they become amplified by the middle ear bones and give rise to ringing in the ears.
If this sounds familiar, go see your GP immediately as surgery could be required in order to restore proper hearing.
Whilst there is no "cure" for tinnitus – as such – there are ways that you can help yourself live with it. For some people, a hearing aid is all they need to re-balance the ears and stop their tinnitus from being so loud and intrusive. This is because hearing aids amplify external sound as well as your own voice; this helps block out some of those distracting noises associated with tinnitus (including your own).
For others, however, hearing aids aren't enough on their own. In this case, it is recommended, acoustic therapy along with counselling. Acoustic therapy uses different types of relaxing sounds specifically designed to mask or distract from any bothersome noises experienced by the patient; we've all been in situations where it's really hard to hear what people are saying when there is background noise, for example.Counselling works both ways; it helps the patient find coping mechanisms for dealing with their tinnitus and educates them about all available options
It's safe to say that tinnitus does indeed worsen with age. The condition is more commonly experienced by the elderly,
but it can affect people of all ages – especially if they are exposed to sudden noises or music played at high volume levels.
Alleviating the effects of tinnitus isn't easy, but new treatments are getting available 24/7 hours. If you've reached the point where your tinnitus has begun to affect your day-to-day life in a negative way, don't be afraid to talk about your symptoms; you're not alone.
Ascent ENT Hospital has the best tinnitus treatment specialist to know more. Contact us now!