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Tinnitus Update

If you’ve ever experienced noises that seem to be coming from inside your ears or head – ringing, buzzing, whistling, roaring, swooshing, humming – you may have had tinnitus. You might have noticed it for a little while after leaving a concert, or maybe it’s been sticking with you for years but you didn’t really know what it was, or that you could get help. The Australian Tinnitus Association estimates that around 18% of our population will experience tinnitus at some point in their lives. That’s nearly one in five of us!

Tinnitus refers to sound that presents in the absence of an external physical noise, which can be confusing and frustrating to say the very least. The name tinnitus comes from the Latin, meaning tinkling like a bell. This is because ‘ringing in the ears’ is one of the most commonly-experienced manifestations of tinnitus. In those that suffer tinnitus, the noise they hear will be unique to them, as will the severity of their experience. It can range from being a mildly irritating affliction to cases that completely overwhelm the individual, and make it difficult to work, socialize or even relax. To illustrate this, some of our patients only report hearing the sounds of tinnitus when resting in a quiet room at night, whereas for others the sounds are severe and persist all day despite the environment.

What causes tinnitus and how can I get it to stop? 

In our clinics, we see many, many people who come in extremely distressed because tinnitus is “driving them crazy”. They’re desperate for relief and we can understand why! Research into the cause of tinnitus continues, and at this point, medical experts can’t confirm exactly why it happens. What we do know is that tinnitus is not a condition or illness itself. It’s a physical symptom of another issue of the ears, hearing system or body. This means that if you begin to experience tinnitus, it’s important to seek the advice of a hearing specialist or doctor. They will help you to pinpoint what could be causing your own tinnitus. 

Some of the most common known causes of tinnitus are:

Hearing loss through excessive noise exposure

Exposure to loud noise damages the microscopic hairs that line the cochlea within the inner ear. These tiny hairs are vital in transmitting sound to the brain, and once damaged they cannot regenerate. We know that people most at-risk for tinnitus include defense force employees, musicians and those in other industries where hazardous noise is an issue, including mining and construction. If you’re suffering tinnitus as a result of excessive noise exposure, it’s likely you also have some degree of hearing loss. If this might be you, we encourage you to seek hearing help from an audiologist as soon as possible, as early treatment gets the best results!

The natural aging process

The aging process sees the deterioration of the tiny hairs within the inner ear also. By the age of 70, we can expect to have about 70% of ours left if we have looked after our hearing well throughout life. This decline may bring about tinnitus as a symptom of age-related hearing loss. It’s definitely worth seeking hearing help to keep you living your life to the fullest and enjoy all that the retirement stage of life brings!

Health and hearing system conditions

Hearing system conditions including ear infections and  Meniere’s disease are often linked to tinnitus – and will dictate whether it is transient or permanent. Other health conditions where tinnitus has been commonly reported as a symptom include heart disease, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, head or neck trauma, jaw misalignment, auditory, vestibular or facial nerve tumours, and stress and fatigue.

Certain medications can also harmful to the inner ear

If you are concerned by tinnitus as a side-effect, please see your doctor. It’s also important to take your medications only as directed, as even over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or aspirin can cause hearing loss (and tinnitus) in large doses. 

Managing tinnitus

It is possible to get relief from your tinnitus! The best way forward is to visit a hearing professional as your first stop. They will do a clinical evaluation which will involve a few questions about your medical background as well as some auditory tests. This will help determine what might be causing the tinnitus. Depending on the treatment plan your audiologist recommends, there are various options you might try next.

Some things might simply require a little bit of adjustment to your lifestyle. For example, feeling stressed and tired worsens the effects of tinnitus. Getting enough sleep and finding ways that you can achieve relaxation, could go a long way to relieving your symptoms.

We also recommend that you avoid noisy environments without adequate hearing protection, as this can aggravate your symptoms. On the opposite end of the spectrum, complete silence is also troubling for many people, as they then really notice their tinnitus. It helps to keep your ears busy with radio, audiobooks or TV as soothing background noise. Caffeine is also known to be an aggravator, but if you can’t forgo your daily coffee fix, try grabbing a decaf.

Many people with tinnitus benefit from specific counselling and habituation therapies that can help you adjust emotionally and psychologically in your response to the sounds. This alleviates stress and anxiety, and helps return quality of life. 

Tinnitus solutions

In some cases, a patient might need special hearing aid technology to help find relief from tinnitus through ‘sound therapy’. These hearing aids generate a comforting constant sound, like a white noise. The sound is customizable to your environment and is designed to both balance the tinnitus and take your focus away from unwanted noise.

Your individual treatment plan for tinnitus will be unique to you, just like tinnitus itself is unique from person to person. The important thing to know is that there can be relief. If you think yourself or a loved one could benefit from talking to us about your tinnitus, come on in! Contact your local ihear clinic now.