It’s not an over-exaggeration to say that tinnitus, a hearing condition that affects an estimated 35 percent of Americans and causes some to hear ringing in their ears 24/7, can be really, really annoying. While there’s currently no cure for tinnitus, there are several different treatment options available to treat everything from a temporary case to more chronic conditions. These treatments include mental health counseling, meditation, and even dietary changes.
But what causes tinnitus, and what are some of the warning signs of the condition? Here are six things you should know about tinnitus so you can recognize it, treat it, and eventually manage it.
It Might Not Be Ringing in the Ears: Tinnitus Takes Many Forms
Like the trickster god Loki of Norse mythology (or of the Marvel movies like Thor and the Avengers – your pick), tinnitus can take on many forms. While most people experience it as a ringing sound, others have been known to describe it as a hissing, whistling, roaring, or even clicking sound. The common thread amongst all the tinnitus sounds is that they appear as noises in the head that only one person can hear. Unless…
Some Forms of Tinnitus Can Be Heard by a Specialist
There are actually two different types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is the most common form and can only be heard by the person who is suffering from the condition. Objective tinnitus, on the other hand, can be heard by a hearing specialist through the use of a stethoscope, or in rare instances by just being close enough to the ear. Objective tinnitus often has a distinct cause and in many cases may be curable, whereas subjective tinnitus is usually not.
Smoking Is Bad for Your Lungs…and Your Ears
Remember that old song that said your leg bone is connected to your knee bone, and so on and so forth? Well, the same holds true for your internal organs. That’s why smoking, which we all think of as affecting our lungs, can actually have an impact on our ears and exacerbate tinnitus. A research study found that smoking’s negative impact on cardiovascular health can also harm the blood vessels in the inner ear, which can lead to dizziness, vertigo, and tinnitus. Smoking can also raise your blood pressure, which has also been known to increase tinnitus symptoms.
I am Iron Man
One possible cause of tinnitus is iron deficiency anemia, which is a lack of the mineral iron in the blood. Research has shown that because anemic blood is not capable of adequately carrying oxygen throughout the body’s tissues and organs, the heart must work harder to send blood to the brain. This increased blood flow travels through the inner ear and can produce the noises generally associated with tinnitus. The good news is that iron deficiency anemia is usually easily treatable – some people find that supplementing their diet with iron-rich foods such as red meat and poultry, or taking iron supplements, can have a positive effect on their tinnitus.
Sleeping Better with Tinnitus
While there is no cure for subjective tinnitus, there are several treatments available to help sufferers get through the day – and night. In fact, tinnitus is often most noticeable at night because of the relative lack of noise during bedtime hours. This is because there is nothing around to compete with the ringing in your ears, which means that it becomes much more noticeable – exactly at the time when you need to rest and sleep. Hearing specialists have determined that adding in some non-distracting sounds, like from a white noise machine, may help to mask the sounds and let you enjoy a good night’s rest. There are even masking devices that can be attuned to your particular tinnitus.
Hearing Aids Can Help with Tinnitus
Did you know that tinnitus is associated with hearing loss? In fact, some studies indicate that 70 to 85 percent of people with hearing loss also experience tinnitus. That’s why hearing aid manufacturers have been working on solutions. Many hearing aids now have additional functionality to help manage the symptoms of tinnitus.
We can all agree: tinnitus is annoying. But it is also very treatable, especially when you can recognize the signs of it and work with a hearing specialist to find the right treatments for you.
Page medically reviewed by Kevin St. Clergy, Audiologist, on May 12, 2020.