Characterized as a persistent buzzing, humming, or ringing in the ears, tinnitus is a problem that many people suffer from. Contrary to popular belief, tinnitus is usually a symptom of a deeper problem. While many forms of tinnitus cannot be cured, almost all of them can be alleviated. If you find yourself suffering from a lack of concentration, insomnia, and persistent noise in the ears, you might benefit from getting your tinnitus diagnosed and treated.
Why Are My Ears Ringing?
This is a loaded question, and it varies from person to person. However, the overarching answer is simple: tinnitus. Tinnitus is an umbrella term used to cover any and all noise in the ears. They might change in pitch, volume, and quality, but tinnitus includes all persistent sounds, including:
How you experience tinnitus might differ from someone else. You might hear a loud, high-pitched ringing, while someone else might hear a dull roar. While some find it easy to ignore, others struggle to hear past it. Your tinnitus might raise in volume, come and go, or change in pitch over time.
Regardless of how your tinnitus manifests, it can have a serious impact on your daily life.
Symptoms and Side Effects of Tinnitus
- Lack of focus. With the persistent ringing in your ears, you might find it difficult to settle down and focus on tasks, including work or school.
- Insomnia. Many of us need quiet while sleeping, and tinnitus can get in the way of that.
- Irritability. Lack of sleep and focus can lead to irritability, which might put strain on your conversations or relationships.
- Difficulty hearing. If the sound in your ears is particularly loud, you might have trouble hearing people through the noise.
- Memory problems. Tinnitus has been shown to affect memory, since the brain has to allocate resources to stay aware and make out sounds — leaving little room for remembering details.
- Social isolation. Conversations might become difficult if you have moderate to severe tinnitus. Instead of asking people to speak louder or repeat themselves, you might avoid social situations entirely.
- Losing enjoyment in music/sound. Music and television may be less enjoyable with the constant background noise in your ears.
- Anxiety and stress. When tinnitus begins to affect your life, it might lead to stress about work, relationships, and even general anxiety.
- Mental fatigue. When your brain has to strain to make out sound through noise, it leads to mental fatigue. Even if you aren’t actively trying to hear through the noise, you might feel excessively tired at the end of the day.
- Depression. Social isolation, anxiety, and other side effects of tinnitus can easily compound the issue and lead to depression. When it gets this far, it’s vital that you get your tinnitus treated.
What Causes Ringing in the Ears?
The causes of tinnitus are the real conditions, not tinnitus itself. In most cases, tinnitus manifests as a symptom of a deeper issue. This issue might involve general hearing loss, injuries, or even blockages in the ear canal.
Regardless of what’s causing your tinnitus, it’s important that you go in for a hearing test and checkup. This gives your doctor a chance to determine what type of tinnitus you are experiencing. There are two types:
- Objective Tinnitus: a very rare form of tinnitus. It’s characterized by a sound that your doctor can hear. When they examine your ear, they might find a blood vessel or muscle causing the noise in your ear.
- Subjective Tinnitus: this type of tinnitus is more common. When your doctor does an examination, they won’t be able to hear anything on their end. That’s because the sound is only audible to you. This type of tinnitus can be caused by many things, but most cases involve some kind of hearing damage.
As for what causes tinnitus, there are a number of possibilities. While some are more likely than others, tinnitus is a symptom of many conditions, including:
- Abnormal bone growth. If the small bones in the middle ear begin to grow abnormally, this can cause tinnitus and conductive hearing loss.
- Circulatory issues. As mentioned above, a damaged vein in the ear can cause a persistent ringing or humming.
- Medications. Certain medications have been known to cause tinnitus. In these cases, stopping or switching medications is recommended.
- Head injuries. Some people report tinnitus after car accidents or head injuries. While it may disappear over time, some people end up with tinnitus forever. Many of these cases only occur on one side of the head.
- TMJ. TMJ disorder, an issue with the temporomandibular joint, can lead to tinnitus in some people. If your tinnitus is caused by this, you might be referred to a specialist.
- Blockages. Blockages in the ear canal, usually caused by earwax, can be the root of tinnitus and conductive hearing loss. Once the blockage is removed, the problem goes away.
How to Stop Ringing in Ears
Depending on the cause of your tinnitus, the treatment may vary. However, before you seek treatment for anything, it’s important that you visit your doctor and receive a full aural checkup. This will include a physical examination and a hearing test, both of which will help your doctor narrow down the source of your tinnitus. If your tinnitus is objective, you might have a muscle or blood vessel that needs treatment. If it’s objective, you’ll need a hearing test to determine whether it’s caused by hearing loss.
Tinnitus caused by blockages, tumors, circulatory issues, muscle spasms, and medications can be solved using the obvious methods. Removing the blockages, treating circulatory and muscle issues, and switching medications. However, tinnitus caused by hearing-and-hearing-loss requires other solutions. Which one you choose is entirely up to you. Your experience with hearing loss is completely unique, and how you choose to approach it is your decision.
Your doctor or hearing care provider might give you suggestions on how to handle the issue. If your tinnitus is mild, it might only affect you during quiet moments. White noise makers can be bought online, and they provide background noise while you sleep, study, or relax. If you need a more constant coverage, tinnitus maskers can provide the dampening sound you need. If your tinnitus is drowned out by the sound of a running faucet, you’ll likely benefit from a white noise maker or noise in ear masker.
However, those with more severe cases of tinnitus might need other solutions. Tinnitus therapies exist to “retrain” your brain to ignore the hum of tinnitus, and some hearing aids come equipped with these programs. If your tinnitus is caused by hearing loss, hearing aids might solve more than one problem.
How Hearing Aids Help with Tinnitus
When dealing with sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus, it’s important to remember that tinnitus is a symptom, not a condition in itself. While tinnitus might be the thing you notice, it’s just a part of the bigger problem. Wearing a masker or using a white noise maker will not make the root issue — hearing loss — go away.
While you might not notice hearing loss, it can affect your life more than you’re led to believe. Once that hearing loss is treated, you’ll be able to hear better, and your tinnitus will be alleviated. New natural sounds, like voices and music and birdsong, will replace the humming that you heard before. As mentioned above, many hearing aids also come equipped with tinnitus retraining programs, which give you the opportunity to target your tinnitus directly. Even if tinnitus is the core issue you want to solve, treating your hearing loss can kill two birds with one stone.
If you’re interested in learning more about tinnitus, hearing loss, and aural health, Signia provides in-depth articles on all of these topics and more, including hearing aids. The newsletter will keep you in the loop, and there’s a backlog of content already available. The more we learn about our ears, the better we can confront issues like tinnitus when they arise.