Is tinnitus affecting your life? Tinnitus is a very common hearing disorder, often explained as a phantom “ringing” in the ear, although tinnitus can sound like a wide spectrum of sounds outside ringing – from crashing waves to buzzing static. While tinnitus affects a wide swath of the population, it is far more likely to be present if you also live with hearing loss.
Today, new research is emerging about how hearing loss and tinnitus relate to one another – and where possible relief from tinnitus can be found.
What Causes Tinnitus?
When it comes to tinnitus, unfortunately, there is no easy answer to the question of what causes the phantom sounds to emerge. Tinnitus incidences can be traced to infections or obstructions in the ear canal, exposure to dangerously loud sounds, bodily stress or even the use of certain medications. Similarly, tinnitus manifests in a multitude of ways. Some people experience phantom sounds as purely tonal while for others, tinnitus sounds more like a clicking or fuzzy sound, distant roar or even instrumental.
While what causes tinnitus and how it sounds may vary greatly, all tinnitus is indicative of damage to the auditory system. This damage can cause our sound sensors to misfire or create switched signals in the brain which lead to the impression of phantom noise. Unfortunately, with such a range of causes, there is no singular treatment path for tinnitus. Instead, finding tinnitus relief may require trial and error, or a multi-faceted strategy to reduce tinnitus intrusions in your life.
Tinnitus At Its Worst
Not only can tinnitus manifest in a wide array of sounds, there is also no consistent severity for tinnitus. Some people report experiencing tinnitus as a near-constant or chronic nuisance. For others, it may arise only occasionally. While some people find tinnitus sounds easy to tune out, for many people tinnitus can dominate their hearing making it difficult to comprehend other sounds.
Intrusive tinnitus can be quite draining. When phantom sounds are oppressively loud, it can make everyday activities and conversations difficult to comprehend. Verbal information can be easily missed or misunderstood with tinnitus acting as an extra obstacle to hearing. When phantom noise overtakes the incoming sounds of the world, it can be distracting and frustrating, making it difficult to concentrate and respond. By limiting what can be heard, tinnitus can cause negative emotions to arise and affect our stress and mood levels.
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
Sadly, tinnitus can pose the most challenging for people who are already facing hearing challenges. People with hearing loss are much more likely to experience tinnitus than those with healthy hearing. Not only this, but people with hearing loss also report their tinnitus as occurring at more severe levels than those with healthy hearing.
Some elements of hearing loss mean that tinnitus is especially amplified. First, hearing loss, like tinnitus, is caused by auditory system damage. In the case of most hearing loss, this damage is permanent and irreversible. With the presence of this pre-existing damage to our ability to hear, the sort of auditory injury that may provoke tinnitus is more likely to be present. Second, hearing loss means that the ability to detect surrounding sounds is already difficult. The phantom sounds of tinnitus can make hearing actual sounds even more challenging than it is with hearing loss by overwhelming incoming sound with phantom noise.
Tinnitus that is holding you back needs to be addressed. When tinnitus interrupts your social activities, your mood, your focus and your ability to understand others, it takes a toll on your quality of life. Fortunately, your hearing specialist can help. Many therapies exist for treating tinnitus, but if you also live with hearing loss, the best approach is to begin by using hearing aids. Hearing aids amplify sound to levels where your tinnitus can’t get in the way of your hearing. They can help suppress tinnitus noise, sending it into the background of your hearing, by bringing relevant sounds forward.
Some hearing aids offer additional tinnitus therapies as well, such as customizable white noise generators which can help interrupt and dispel intrusive tinnitus sounds. If tinnitus is bothering you, you don’t have to suffer with it – contact your hearing specialist today!