Have you ever experienced a ringing or buzzing in your ears after hours at a loud concert? For many, this fades after a couple hours or days. But for approximately 10% of the population, this condition is permanent. This condition is called tinnitus. Dealing with tinnitus can be a big pain. When it comes to tinnitus, hearing loss complications could be connected. So how are tinnitus and hearing loss connected, and should you get hearing aids for tinnitus?
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a sensorineural condition within your hearing pathway that triggers a sound you hear, but has no external source. When your ear or auditory nerves are damaged, your brain sometimes compensates for the lack of sounds from the outside world by making its auditory system more active, producing these sounds. They can come in the form of ringing, whistling, clicking, chirping, humming, roaring, shrieking, or hissing. In some people, tinnitus can switch between these types of sound.
You might have tinnitus in one ear, or feel like the sound is coming from inside your head. Some people with tinnitus have the sensation that the sound is coming from a distance, even though it seems to have no source and is present in a variety of environments. Others have a form of tinnitus that produces a sound constantly, while some hear those sounds intermittently. It can be a steady sound or it may fluctuate. Whatever the case, dealing with tinnitus can be distracting and irritating. More importantly, it may be a symptom of an underlying condition.
What causes tinnitus (and hearing loss)?
Many things can cause tinnitus, some of which only result in temporary sounds while others have a more permanent effect. Like general hearing loss, tinnitus can be caused by:
- Exposure to loud noises
- Earwax buildup
- Ear and sinus infections
- Migraine headaches & head injuries
- Certain types of tumors in or around the ear or in the brain
- Meniere’s disease (which itself can cause chronic vertigo and other health problems)
- High doses of caffeine & cigarette use
- Certain drugs or medications (i.e. some types of aspirin, NSAIDs, antibiotics, antimalarials, anticonvulsants, cancer drugs, diuretics, and antidepressants)
- Heart disease & hypertension
- Thyroid abnormalities & hormonal changes
- Vascular disease
- TMJ disorders
How are tinnitus, hearing loss linked?
While it is possible to experience tinnitus without any form of hearing loss or vice versa, the majority of those who suffer from chronic tinnitus also have some degree of hearing loss. In fact, a study in France determined that there was a correlation between tinnitus, hearing loss experiences. For example, age- or noise-related hearing loss was typically accompanied by a constant, high-pitched sound, while Meniere’s disease hearing loss typically coincided with tinnitus that produced a fluctuating, low humming sound. Researchers also found that the perceived loudness of the sound produced by tinnitus has a strong association with the degree of hearing loss.
Do hearing aids help tinnitus?
Because tinnitus and hearing loss are closely linked, many people can manage hearing loss and tinnitus with hearing aids. When you use hearing aids and can hear better, the stress associated with straining to hear is reduced. As a result, you can more easily adapt to the tinnitus, and it becomes less noticeable. The hearing aids can also amplify background noise to your comfort level, which helps mask sounds produced by tinnitus. With hearing aids, your auditory system is adequately stimulated and the brain no longer needs to compensate for absent noise.
You don’t need to break the bank to help ease your tinnitus, hearing loss, and other auditory problems.
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