Are "Sleigh Bells" Ringing in your ears? Get the Facts on Tinnitus
There are times over the winter holidays when you expect to hear ringing: jingle bells on Santa’s reindeer, hand bell choirs preforming traditional carols, or the Salvation Army’s bell ringers. However, there’s an extreme difference between the ringing of outside noises and the constant, annoying buzz or high-pitched squeal associated with tinnitus. For millions of Americans, tinnitus has a devastating effect on the quality of their lives.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 50 million Americans experience tinnitus. That’s over 15 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly one in every six of us.
So what is this condition that affects so many people — and what can tinnitus sufferers do about it? We cover the basics here.
1. What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the medical term for the sensation of hearing sound in your ears when no external sound is present. In most cases, tinnitus is a subjective sound, meaning only the person who has it can hear it. Typically, sufferers describe the sound as “ringing in ears,” though others describe it as hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring and even chirping.
Just as the sound may be different for each person, the effects of tinnitus are different for every individual, too. For some, it is sporadic and “not that bad.” For others, tinnitus never stops and can make daily life awful.
But one thing everyone with tinnitus has in common is a desire for relief. For most, this desire is so great they will try anything to make their tinnitus less annoying, including resorting to acupuncture, eardrops, herbal remedies, hypnosis and more.
Our specially trained medical staff are specialists in the field of tinnitus treatment, and it is our passion to separate fact from myth, guiding patients to real solutions!
2. What causes tinnitus?
Scientists and health experts have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of tinnitus, but we know it can take two forms.
As mentioned above, most cases of tinnitus are subjective tinnitus, where only the patient can perceive the sound they are hearing.
The other primary type of tinnitus, called objective tinnitus is very rare. In the case of objective tinnitus, persistent noises in the ear or head are heard by both the patient and can be audible to other people. These noises are usually produced by the body, for example, the circulatory system. This is also sometimes be called pulsatile tinnitus.
The physiology of tinnitus is not well understood but recent studies suggest that many parts of the brain, in addition to almost the entire auditory cortex (hearing center of the brain), are involved in tinnitus, which makes this issue particularly hard to treat.
The most important thing to remember is that tinnitus is not considered a disease in and of itself but rather a symptom of another condition. Several sources are known to trigger or worsen ringing in the ears, including:
Loud noises and hearing loss — Exposure to loud noises can destroy the non-regenerative cilia (tiny hairs) in the inner ear (cochlea), causing permanent hearing loss and frequently tinnitus. Noise-induced tinnitus is often the result of exposure to loud environmental noises, such as working in a factory setting, with or around heavy machinery, or even a single event like a gunshot or loud concert.
Aging — Natural aging, too, gradually destroys the cilia, and is a leading cause of hearing loss. Tinnitus is a common symptom of age-related hearing loss.
Ototoxic medications – Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, diuretics and others can be ototoxic, meaning they are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibers connecting the cochlea to the brain.
Hearing conditions – Conditions such as Ménière’s disease are known to cause tinnitus.
Health conditions – Tinnitus has been associated with a number of health conditions, including:
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Fibromyalgia and chronic pain
Head or neck trauma
Auditory, vestibular or facial nerve tumors
Stress and fatigue
3. Is there a cure for tinnitus?
Currently, there is no known cure for tinnitus. However, according to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), there are a few established therapies and tinnitus treatment options. Because there is no cure, the ATA notes, “the primary objective for all currently available tinnitus treatment options is to lower the perceived burden of tinnitus.”
Sound therapy is a treatment option listed by the ATA, the ATA notes that hearing aids are an effective component to most sound therapy protocols, with hearing professionals reporting that 60 percent of their tinnitus patients experiencing relief when wearing them.
Sound therapy — and hearing aids — work by masking the tinnitus sound and reducing the perception and intensity of any “ringing in the ears.” This helps take your mind off of your tinnitus, which helps lower its burden.
In extreme cases of tinnitus, behavioral therapies can also be helpful to reduce the burden of this disorder on daily life.
4. What should you do if you or someone you know has tinnitus?
Since the exact cause of tinnitus is not known, the ATA recommends you visit an audiologist for a tinnitus and hearing evaluation, as well as seeing your primary care provider. This evaluation helps them what may be causing it. Specialized tests are performed to evaluate the auditory system. Some of these tests measure the specific features of the tinnitus itself, and could include:
Tests of the middle ear
Tinnitus pitch match
Tinnitus loudness match
Otoacoustic emissions (measurement of cilia function)
5. How can you get tinnitus relief?
Be aware: there are several advertisements for tinnitus “cures” on the internet and television, touting everything from herbal remedies to vitamin supplements. However, there is no scientific evidence to show that these methods are effective.
At Brant Audiology and Tinnitus, we develop individualized treatment plans for our patients to fit their tinnitus needs. This may include referrals to appropriate medical professionals (primary healthcare providers, Ear Nose and Throat Physicians, Neurologists, etc), education on tinnitus, and sound therapy treatment through the use of hearing aid (or implanted device) technology when appropriate.
Source: American Tinnitus Association at https://www.ata.org/
Contents adapted from post by Starkey Hearing