As one of the most common hearing problems, tinnitus affects millions of individuals each day. Depending on the severity of the tinnitus symptoms, this hearing issue can be a mild annoyance or dramatically impact your daily life. Left untreated, tinnitus can make communication much more difficult, negatively affect your professional life, and even lead to anxiety, insomnia, or depression.
While there is no medical cure for tinnitus, there are several tinnitus treatment options designed to help individuals live better lives while managing their tinnitus symptoms. Over time, some patients may not even notice that slight buzzing noise in their ears. But when it comes to battling tinnitus, it all starts with education. That’s why we’re taking a closer look at this common hearing problem to learn more about what it is, what causes it, and why tinnitus (contrary to popular belief) is not actually a disease.
What is Tinnitus?
Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is tinnitus? Tinnitus is a common hearing problem that can affect anyone regardless of age or condition of health. Tinnitus is the perception of a sound (commonly called “phantom noises”) when there is no actual external sound present. Essentially, only the person with tinnitus can hear these noises, which commonly sound like a slight buzzing, humming, or ringing sound. As a result, tinnitus can be a very frustrating, and often isolating, hearing problem to live with.
Even if you don’t constantly hear a ringing in your ears, this doesn’t mean you’ve never experienced tinnitus. In fact, odds are that you’ve experienced tinnitus once or twice in your life. For example, after leaving a concert, have you ever heard a slight ringing noise for a few minutes after leaving the show? If so, you’ve experienced tinnitus on a temporary level. Luckily, in these scenarios, the tinnitus symptoms will fade within a matter of minutes. But for many individuals, this is not the case.
Is Tinnitus a Disease?
Contrary to popular belief, tinnitus is NOT a disease. Tinnitus is not a health problem that can be caught or transmitted like a cold or the flu. Rather, tinnitus is actually a symptom of an underlying health problem, such as a major head or neck injury, Lyme disease, or even something as simple as ear wax blockage.
While many cases of tinnitus will be permanent, such as tinnitus caused by age-related hearing loss, some can be temporary and fade within just a matter of seconds or minutes. It all comes down to the underlying cause of your tinnitus symptoms. Once identified, you and your doctor can better address the root cause of your hearing issues, and in some cases, develop an effective treatment plan.
So, What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, as previously noted, is not a disease itself, but actually a symptom of an underlying health problem. In a way, this can make tinnitus a challenging hearing issue to identify as it may stem from a variety of different causes and health conditions. Since no two cases are the exact same, this makes it critical to schedule a visit with your audiologist for a hearing test and thorough diagnosis. Once you’ve identified the specific cause of your tinnitus, your audiologist can better put you on the path to an effective form of treatment.
Many of the top causes of tinnitus include:
- Age-related hearing loss (the most common cause)
- Head or neck injuries
- Exposure to loud noises
- Ear wax build up
- Lyme disease
- Acoustic neuroma
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorders
- Ototoxic medications
Can Tinnitus Be Cured?
Currently, there is no medical cure for tinnitus. However, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t hope for those who suffer from tinnitus symptoms. In fact, doctors and audiologists have developed many different treatment options and lifestyle strategies to help their patients better manage that ringing noise in their ears. But it’s important to remember that these treatments don’t technically “cure” tinnitus, but rather, help to reduce the sounds of tinnitus so that you may not even notice it over time.
In some cases, however, there are treatments that can essentially eliminate the sounds of tinnitus. But this all comes down to the specific source of your tinnitus, which again is why it’s so important to receive a professional diagnosis from your doctor or audiologist. For example, if tinnitus is caused by ear wax building up in the ear canal, then this is usually easily resolved as an audiologist can drain the excess ear wax. Following this treatment, most patients report that their tinnitus symptoms have disappeared.
Tinnitus Treatment Options
Once the specific cause of your tinnitus symptoms has been identified, you’ll then be able to better map out a course for a hopefully effective treatment plan. Depending on the cause of your tinnitus symptoms, however, these treatments may look very different in practice. Most doctors will recommend certain treatments in tandem with lifestyle changes, such as more exercise, a better diet, and finding ways to reduce stress.
Some of the most common treatments for tinnitus include:
- Hearing aids: this treatment is especially common for those living with this hearing problem caused by age-related hearing loss.
- Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT).
- Sound masking machines: these machines can mask the slight buzzing sound you’re hearing so you can go about your day peacefully.
- Stress reduction: finding ways in your daily life to reduce the amount of stress that commonly makes the sounds of tinnitus even worse.
- Lifestyle changes: these can include things like a healthier diet, moderate exercise, and cutting back on vices like smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Vitamins for tinnitus, such as B12, D, and E, have been considered as potential aids in alleviating symptoms, but it’s important to consult a healthcare professional to determine the most appropriate approach for your individual case.
Conclusion – Is Tinnitus a Disease?
Tinnitus is one of the most common hearing problems throughout the world. While it tends to affect older individuals more, millions of people of all ages experience tinnitus on a regular basis. While some types of tinnitus may be temporary (like the ringing sound you hear for a few minutes after attending a concert), many forms of tinnitus are permanent. Speak with your audiologist if you believe you’re experiencing tinnitus.