Many people experience a persistent ringing in their ears. This is common and referred to as tinnitus, a condition that affects roughly 15 percent of the American population.1Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when no sound currently exists. For some it is a minor nuisance, but for others it is a major impediment to their quality of life.
Although tinnitus is most often described as a ringing in the ears, it may also take the form of a buzzing, whooshing, roaring, clicking, hissing or whistling. Some tinnitus sufferers experience severe mental and emotional anguish. Side effects include fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, and memory/concentration problems.
It is important to note that tinnitus isn’t a disease itself, but a symptom. As such, it can occur as the result of a number of conditions. These include hearing loss, noise exposure, head or neck trauma, high blood pressure, vascular disorders, heart conditions, ototoxic medications, benign tumors known as acoustic neuromas, and impacted earwax. Many times the cause is never determined. Unless the underlying condition responsible for tinnitus is identified and can be treated, your only real course of action is learning to live with the phantom sounds.
Doctors and audiologists have developed a variety of partially successful strategies for dealing with tinnitus.
- White noise therapy. This popular treatment option uses random sound frequencies distributed throughout the hearing spectrum to disguise the persistent background noises. There are electronic devices made solely for this purpose, but some patients can achieve the same effect through use of an air conditioner, fan or humidifier.
- Acoustic neural stimulation. Much like white noise therapy, acoustic signals are delivered through a handheld device, helping the neural circuits to become desensitized to the noise.
- Hearing aids. Some hearing aids have features that can minimize the impact of tinnitus.
1 Demographics | American Tinnitus Association. (2017). Ata.org. Retrieved 2 August 2017, from https://www.ata.org/understanding-facts/demographics