It’s just a little ringing or buzzing in your ear, right? It sounds innocent enough when you put it that way, but the truth is tinnitus changes things, especially if it’s new. It is, in fact, just a phantom noise in your ear but that doesn’t mean it’s something that you will learn to love — just the opposite in fact. For some people, tinnitus is a debilitating problem, one that interferes with their ability to hold conversations, sleep at night and focus at work. It changes your perception of the world because it takes over different parts of it. To understand why you need to know more about tinnitus.
Tinnitus: What is it?
Tinnitus means you hear noises that no one else can hear. People think of it as a condition but it is actually a symptom of something else like the age-related hearing loss. If you have tinnitus, it is important to know many other people do too. According to the American Tinnitus Association, about 15 percent of the U.S. population have tinnitus at some level.
Tinnitus can be different for everyone, as well. Some people hear ringing in their ears while others describe it as:
- Wind blowing
These are all sounds indicative of tinnitus.
What Causes Tinnitus?
That tells you a lot but it doesn’t explain the cause of tinnitus. Tinnitus is a bit of a medical mystery, in part, because there may be more than one cause. For many, it is a symptom of profound hearing loss. The brain gets used to hearing sounds all the time because it’s always around you. It’s there when you go for a walk or read a book. There is some kind of noise even as you sit in a quiet room.
Noise is always there for your ears pick up on even if it is slight. Faint sound creates small waves that the brain can interpret. It then decides whether you actually should hear the noise or not.
When someone develops hearing loss things changes gradually. Over time, the sound stops coming to the brain the way it used to, so it tries to figure out why. Researchers believe that it tries to fix the problem by creating the ringing, buzzing or wind sound associated with tinnitus. It would rather “hear” a phantom noise then live in silence.
There are other medical problems that can cause tinnitus beside age-related hearing loss such as:
- Ear canal blockage
- Head or neck trauma
- Temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ)
- Sinus conditions
- Traumatic brain injury
- Ototoxic drugs
- Metabolic disorders such as hypothyroid
- An autoimmune disorder like Lyme disease or fibromyalgia
- Circulatory disorders such as high blood pressure
- Vestibular disorders like thoracic outlet syndrome
- Tumor-related disorders such as acoustic neuroma
If you suddenly notice the phantom noises of tinnitus, it is time to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. You need to find out why you have this problem and to rule out very serious medical concerns like high blood pressure.
Why Does Tinnitus Impact How You See the World?
Tinnitus has a negative impact on most people and even faint ringing in the ears can be distracting. The irritation of not being able to turn it on and off can lead to:
- Emotional distress
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Poor concentration
People with severe tinnitus might experience:
- Social isolation
- Sleep deprivation
- Anxiety disorders
- Major depressive disorder
That loss of control and frustration may bleed through to everything else you do.
What Treatment is Available for Tinnitus?
First, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about the medical options. If the cause is hearing loss, using a hearing aid for that ear may be the only thing you need. Hearing aids amplify sound, so your brain starts getting the daily noise it expects. White noise machines mimic environmental sounds when you take your hearing aids out like at night. You can also try to create your own kind of noise with a fan or by running a dehumidifier.
Your view of the world defines your awareness of what’s going on around you. That improves when you eliminate the distracting noise of tinnitus.