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Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and how to find relief

You’re not crazy, that constant sound in your ears could be a real medical condition called tinnitus. And, you’re not the only one looking for relief. If you hear constant ringing, whistling, hissing, or other sounds that never seem to go away, you could be suffering from a hearing condition called tinnitus. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that 50 million people in the country suffer from this problem. Individuals may feel tormented by these sounds that never seem to stop.

What causes tinnitus?

We still don’t know the exact physiological causes of tinnitus; it often seems to appear out of nowhere. Tinnitus is suspected to result from several possible conditions, such as:

  • A build-up of ear wax
  • Exposure to loud noises which have permanently destroyed inner ear cells
  • Diabetes-related sensorineural hearing loss
  • Ototoxic (toxic to the ear) medications
  • Thyroid conditions, fibromyalgia, or Lyme disease
  • Meniere’s disease – a disorder of the inner ear
  • Jaw misalignment, head and neck trauma, or strained neck muscles due to arthritis or TMJ
  • Acoustic neuroma – a tumor that develops in the vestibular cochlear nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain
  • Problems with blood flow in arteries of the head or neck
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Cardiovascular diseases
  • Hypertension

Some people also develop tinnitus without an underlying cause. Though not a serious health problem, never-ending tinnitus can cause fatigue, anxiety, memory problems, and even depression. Preventing tinnitus can be as simple as taking steps to protect your overall ear health and hearing.

What are your tinnitus relief options?

Effective tinnitus treatment is multi-pronged and should address the audiological, emotional, and neurological components of the condition. Here are a few treatment options that can provide considerable relief: Biofeedback Biofeedback is a relaxation technique that teaches patients how to control autonomic body functions such as temperature, heart rate, and muscle tension. The treatment is based on the presumption that the patient’s discomfort is amplified by the stress caused by the tinnitus sounds. Patients learn how to alter the body’s stress response by changing their own thoughts and feelings. Annual hearing screening Something as simple as excess ear wax can cause tinnitus, so having a yearly hearing exam can be a quick fix. Hearing aids Many tinnitus patients, especially those with hearing loss, experience complete or partial relief by using hearing aids. For many people with age-related hearing loss, tinnitus could be related to the deprivation of ambient sounds. Hearing aids can take care of this problem. If the hearing loss is in the frequency range of the tinnitus, hearing aids can bring back the ambient sounds that naturally cover up the tinnitus sounds. You are likely to benefit more from wearing hearing aids in both ears than in just one. Open-fit hearing aids, which improve hearing without blocking out softer external sounds, have been found to be quite beneficial. There are also combination devices which perform the normal sound-processing functions of hearing aids, while also providing low level external sounds to help relieve tinnitus. Sound machines Mild tinnitus can be masked with the help of sound machines that generate white noise such as a soft “shhhhhhh” sound. Some masking devices can be worn like hearing aids, and others can be placed on the tabletop near your bed. Pleasant sounds of rain, waves, waterfall, birdsong, or campfire can mask tinnitus and help you relax. Cochlear implants Cochlear implants are used for deaf or nearly deaf patients. These devices may help mask tinnitus by the ambient sounds they bring in, or the electrical stimulation that they send through the auditory nerve. Drug therapy Though many drugs have been researched in an attempt to relieve tinnitus, so far, no drug has been designed specifically to eliminate the disorder, and no existing drugs have been found to cure tinnitus. TMJ treatment If the tinnitus is due to a dysfunctional jaw joint, dental treatment can help relieve it, along with the TMJ pain.

Stay on top of new developments

Joining a tinnitus support group can help you find others who understand what you’re going through. A support group can also help you stay abreast of new treatments and findings. With encouragement from fellow-sufferers, friends, family, along with good hearing care, people with tinnitus usually find that they can cope with the condition. Do you suffer from tinnitus? Tell us in the comments how you handle it and what strategies have worked for you.

Steve Brinkman
Steve has been Beltone's Director of Customer Care for the last 14 years. His goal is to partner with our national network of 1,500 Beltone locations to help ensure the best possible hearing care experience for our patients. More about Steve

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