Tinnitus is likely much more common than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 50 million people experience tinnitus. Additionally, 20 million people live with chronic tinnitus. In addition to these statistics, to further assess how common tinnitus is, researchers at the University of California Irvine conducted a significant survey. They sampled 75,764 people who were 18 years and older with tinnitus symptoms. Key findings from their study include:
- 1 in 10 people experienced tinnitus in the past 12 months
- 36% of people dealt with chronic tinnitus
- 27% experienced tinnitus for more than 15 years
- Only 49.4% of people had discussed their tinnitus with a physician
These findings highlight the prevalence of tinnitus and how unaddressed it often remains, as many do not take a tinnitus test. Experiencing tinnitus, especially chronically, can produce multifaceted effects that impact sleep and health.
What causes tinnitus?
Several factors can trigger tinnitus. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that nearly 200 health conditions produce tinnitus as a symptom. A few common causes include the following:
The most common cause of tinnitus is hearing loss. The Hearing Health Foundation estimates that 90% of all tinnitus cases occur with underlying hearing loss. Impacting over 48 million people, hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical condition people experience today. Several factors can cause hearing loss including aging, exposure to loud noise, and existing medical conditions that increase the risk of experiencing impaired hearing.
Hearing loss typically occurs as a result of hair cells in the inner ear being damaged. These sensory cells play a critical role in how we hear and are able to understand what we hear. Hair cells convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that get sent to the brain to be further analyzed. When these hair cells lose sensitivity and/or die, they are less able to perform their essential function, resulting in hearing loss. This produces numerous symptoms including tinnitus.
Other causes of tinnitus include inner ear disorders, autoimmune conditions, obstructions in the ear, and growths.
How is tinnitus treated?
Fortunately, there are effective ways tinnitus can be managed so that the impact it has on your daily life is as minimal as possible. A few ways tinnitus is managed include:
- Treat hearing loss: Because numerous health conditions produce tinnitus as a symptom, it can take some time to identify and treat the underlying cause. But it is helpful to start by having your hearing assessed as hearing loss is the most common activator of tinnitus. Hearing tests involve a painless process that measures your hearing capacity in both ears. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids - medical devices that are designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound. This maximizes hearing capacity and alleviates hearing loss symptoms including tinnitus.
- Sound therapy: Sound therapy works by providing an external noise source so you can hear sounds other than the ringing in your ears. This may help reduce the intensity of your tinnitus symptoms and make them easier to ignore. Your brain will eventually tune out these external noises, allowing you to focus on other things and reducing stress. The type of sounds used varies depending on what works best for you. Some people benefit most from the use of steady background noise, while others find that a certain music or tone is more effective for them. Some examples of background noises that may be used include white noise, nature sounds, and fractal tones.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy: This is a form of habituation therapy designed to help people get used to their particular brand of tinnitus. An audiologist or psychologist specializing in TRT provides counseling and sound therapy, using desensitization techniques to help a person habituate to the ringing in their ears.The first step in TRT is a tinnitus test where the hearing professional matchs the pitch and loudness of the tinnitus to that of a neutral sound. Then there is talking therapy designed to help change the your emotional response to the sound. After effective retraining has occurred, many patients are able to go on with their lives without being bothered by their tinnitus. Although TRT does not work for everyone, according to the American Tinnitus Association, about one-third of those who undergo this type of procedure see significant improvement in their symptoms.
If you think you have tinnitus, come and see us for a tinnitus test. This is a painless, non-invasive examination that is performed in order to accurately diagnose the condition and rule out any underlying medical conditions.
The tinnitus test will first involve a complete medical history being taken in order to determine the cause of your tinnitus. We will ask questions about your symptoms, when they started and what you have noticed since the tinnitus began. We may also ask whether any other conditions run in your family and whether you are taking any medications, including over-the-counter drugs. We’ll also examine your ears, nose and throat to check for any obvious causes of tinnitus, such as earwax build-up or a middle ear infection. Finally we’ll run some hearing tests and discuss which treatments would be best for you.
Many people are nervous about booking their tinnitus test, but we’ve been doing this for years and are here to help you get the help you need.
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