Did you know that you actually hear with you brain and not your ears!? Neither did I until I started looking into this very annoying problem. A lot of people suffer from Tinnitus and don’t know what to do about it. So I thought it would be a good subject to tackle for those of you that do have it.

So first off, what is Tinnitus? The Mayoclinic defines it as follows:  “Tinnitus (TIN-ih-tus) is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.” Another definition says that you may experience a “hissing or roaring” sound, but that the sound comes not from something external, but internal.

Now I know my dad had Tinnitus and he complained about it a bit, but I do know that he suffered a lot with it. As he was in WWII and was a gunnery engineer, his was most likely caused by damage done to his ears while fighting in the war, and he did have hearing aids, but they didn’t seem to help much.

What causes Tinnitus? Well as mentioned above, it can be something that happened to cause it such as: damage to the tiny sensory hair cells in the cochlea of the inner ear; medications, hearing loss; head and neck injuries; ear infections; earwax touching the eardrum; eustachian tube (middle ear) problems; Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders; stiffening of middle ear bones; traumatic brain injury; cardiovascular diseases; and diabetes. It may be a serious problem for teens with their loud music that may trigger tinnitus later in life. It’s something hearing specialists are starting to monitor at an early age to help possibly prevent it from happening.

Some risk factors that may lead to Tinnitus: noise exposure – due to working conditions, headphones, concerts, explosives, etc.; smoking; men are affected more than women; hearing loss; and age (older people are more susceptible).

What symptoms should you look for? This is a non-auditory, internal sound that can be intermittent or continuous, either low- or high-pitched. The sounds heard have been identified as: whistling: chirping; clicking; screeching; hissing; static; roaring; buzzing; pulsing; whooshing; or musical. And the volume can fluctuate. It’s most noticeable at night or during times of quiet. There might be some hearing loss.

If you think you might have this issue, it is recommended that you see an Ear Nose and Throat specialist to get a correct diagnosis. They will provide you with tests that will determine if there is damage done to your ears such as: a complete examination of the throat, nose and ears; a subjective hearing test; analyse the noise in the ear; test for balance disorders; and do an objective hearing test. They could also do a blood analysis; MRT (magnetic resonance tomography) of the skull; CT of the skull; and examine the neck vertebrae and the jaw.

How is Tinnitus treated? Uncovering the cause is a big part of how this issue is treated. It could involve: treating an ear infection; discontinuing ototoxic medications (aspirin, ibuprofen, antibiotics, diuretics, and my personal favorite – Propranolol – my tremor drug!); or treating TMJ problems that may exist.

There are some things that can be done at home to help manage Tinnitus such as: sound therapy – like background music, white noise, or special ear maskers; Tinnitus retraining therapy that helps the person accept the abnormal sounds of tinnitus as natural rather than troublesome; cognitive behavioral therapy can help relieve depression in those suffering with this issue, but it doesn’t necessarily reduce the sound.

In order to help prevent tinnitus, you should wear hearing protection (ear muffs or earplugs) when being exposed to environmental noises, and play your devices at a moderate volume.

You can also help to avoid tinnitus by exercising regularly, eat healthily, have good sleeping habits, avoid smoking and excessive alcohol, implement some good stress management techniques. But unfortunately, once the damage is done, there is no current way to reverse it.

I know from personal experience that this issue is not a pleasant one and it is very annoying. And, I’m fortunate that it doesn’t cause me too much of a problem hearing, at the moment. But as I mentioned, if you think you have tinnitus, it’s time to seek help from your Health Care Team.

Have a wonderful day and week ahead.