Tinnitus is a perceived ringing in the ears that has no discernable source. It’s extremely common, and about 30 million Americans report having tinnitus. Severity varies, but one in five individuals categorizes their tinnitus as “disabling or nearly disabling.”
Tinnitus manifests in a variety of sounds, including:
You may also experience physical symptoms like:
- Increased heart rate
- Dizziness or light-headedness
What Causes Tinnitus?
The stereocilia, or hair cells, in your ears are responsible for sending stimuli to your brain for sound interpretation. Damage to these delicate cells contribute to tinnitus and is caused by:
Noise damage: Exposure to loud noise is a common cause of tinnitus. You may notice the ringing in your ears worsens after exposure to noises over 85 decibels.
Earwax and ear infections: Both cause inflammation, which puts pressure on stereocilia and intensifies tinnitus symptoms.
Head and neck injury: Any injury to your head or neck can affect the nerves in your ears and brain. Depending on the injury, it may also jostle the three bones in the middle and cause conductive hearing loss.
Ototoxic medications: Any medication that is toxic to the ear will damage stereocilia. Common ototoxic drugs include aspirin, some antibiotics, diuretics, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, chemotherapy drugs and quinine.
Comorbidities: Cardiac conditions like heart disease and high blood pressure restrict blood flow to the ears and damage hair cells. Meniere’s disease, temporomandibular joint disorder and Eustachian tube dysfunction can also contribute to your tinnitus.
Identifying the cause of your tinnitus is the first step toward effective treatment. Some conditions, like infections and comorbidities, can be treated with antibiotics and medications. Your physician or audiologist can safely remove excess earwax and other blockages.
Prevention is another essential part of treatment. Reducing your exposure to things that exacerbate your condition will help control your symptoms. Here are some tinnitus treatment options:
- Wear hearing protection like earplugs in noisy environments.
- Avoid excess noise exposure.
- Cut back or eliminate alcohol and nicotine consumption.
- Ask your audiologist about hearing aids with masking programs.
- Use a white noise machine or fan to mask the ringing when you go to sleep.