Tinnitus: Will the Ringing Ever Stop?
Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is a very common condition affecting approximately 1 in 4 Australians. Tinnitus can present in multiple forms such as ringing, chirping, buzzing, humming and many more. Technically speaking, tinnitus means perceiving sound when no external sound is present. Tinnitus often comes as a result of an underlying condition such as hearing loss, ear injuries, or problems with the circulatory system and often can be managed or helped with the treatment of the underlying condition.
If you suffer from this tinnitus, it is quite normal to feel tense, irritable, or even frustrated. It can affect your concentration, sleep, and even exacerbate depression and anxiety. If you have been struggling with tinnitus and it has affected your everyday life, it may be time to reach out. Audiologists, otherwise known as hearing professionals, are here to help. We are trained to evaluate your hearing and provide treatment options and/or recommend further referral if required.
Tinnitus can be caused by a number of things (see below), but the two most common causes are hearing loss and noise exposure.
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Age-related hearing loss
- Ear diseases and disorders
- Extreme stress or trauma
- Degeneration of the hair cells in the cochlear
- Ear problems, such as otosclerosis (fixation of the tiny stirrup bone in the middle ear)
- Meniere’s disease (swelling of a duct in the ear)
- Some medications.
- Head trauma
- Large doses of certain drugs such as aspirin (always check with your doctor whether the medication they are prescribing has a side effect of causing or exacerbating the condition)
- Compacted ear wax
- Middle ear infections
- Jaw misalignment (specifically, dysfunction of the joint connecting the jaw to the bone under the ear)
- Perilymph fistula (a hole in the inner ear, allowing fluid to escape)
- Certain types of tumours
- Cardiovascular disease
- Thyroid disorders
Now that we know some conditions which can cause tinnitus, it’s important to know what can make it worse and how to avoid them. The three major factors that can exacerbate tinnitus are loud noise exposure, stress and fatigue, and use of some medications.
Working in noisy surroundings, listening to loud music (both at concerts and through headphones), playing musical instruments, and exposure to other loud noises without using special protective equipment increases the risk of developing tinnitus as well as hearing loss. Even a single incident of exposure to an extremely loud noise (such as fireworks or other explosions, or a gunshot fired close to the ear) can result in tinnitus or hearing loss.
Earplugs or other hearing protection often prevent tinnitus that may otherwise be caused by excessive noise. You should always wear hearing protection in noisy environments, even if you do not find the noise uncomfortable. Hearing loss at higher frequencies is often painless, and the most common result is tinnitus.
Stress & Fatigue
There is some evidence that stress makes tinnitus worse. Although stress is part of everyday life, you can take steps to reduce stress levels by using relaxation and stress management techniques that help you stay calm, think positively, and focus your energies outward and away from the tinnitus.
Hypnotherapy can help with relaxation and cognitive behavioural therapy, offered by clinical psychologists, can help you to change the way you think about the condition, learn ways to focus your attention away from your tinnitus, and control the stress associated with the condition.
Medications & Other Substances
It is essential to tell your family doctor about your tinnitus; some common medications may cause it as a side effect or make your existing condition worse. Take special care with medications for arthritis, rheumatic diseases, some antibiotics, and anti-depressants. Excessive use of aspirin can also create issues; ask your doctor about alternatives if this is a concern.
Some foods and substances are also suspected of making tinnitus worse, although this has not been scientifically proven. While you don’t have to avoid them altogether, try easing off caffeine, quinine (tonic water), and alcohol as they can temporarily worsen tinnitus for some people. Carbohydrate-rich meals, like pasta, can have a calming or sedating effect, which can be helpful. However, give yourself time to digest your meal before you go to bed to avoid disturbed sleep.
Is There a Cure?
Even though there is currently no definitive cure for tinnitus, it is important to recognise that tinnitus does not have to affect your quality of life. This being said, there are techniques, management strategies, and treatments which can help reduce its effects on your life. Treatment options like Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, Surgery, Medications, and Hearing aids can help.
Regardless of the cause, it is important to speak with a professional about your worries and symptoms. Speak with your family doctor, audiologist/hearing professional or ear specialist to begin your journey towards overcoming tinnitus.
For more information, visit earandhearing.com.au or make an appointment to see one of our qualified audiologists.