You’ve probably experienced “ringing in your ears” or muffled hearing after a concert, sports event or maybe even on the job. At the time, you most likely didn’t realize that the ringing was a temporary injury to your ear called spontaneous tinnitus. It occurs after excessive noise exposure and typically lasts a few minutes.
However, prolonged exposure to loud sounds can cause tinnitus, an audiological and neurological condition, which is often described as a buzzing, hissing, whistling or clicking sound. In most cases, it is a sensorineural reaction in the brain to damage in the ear and auditory system causing less external sound stimuli to reach the brain. In response, the brain undergoes neuroplastic changes in how it processes different sound frequencies, which results in tinnitus. It is the brain’s way of filling in the missing sound frequencies it no longer receives from the auditory system.
Nearly 15% of the general public—over 50 million Americans—experience some form of tinnitus.1 Tinnitus is more common in men than women, as well as Caucasians and Baby Boomers ages 60 to 69.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is primarily caused by environmental and behavioral factors, with noise exposure and hearing loss being the main catalysts. Certain jobs and hobbies can also put you at a higher risk. Repeated exposure to loud noises damages ear hair cells, which are irreplaceable. Factory workers, landscapers, musicians and military personnel are at an increased risk for excessive noise exposure. If you are a music fanatic or hunting or motorbike enthusiast, you are also at a higher risk.
Most people develop tinnitus as a symptom of hearing loss, caused either by age, long-term hearing damage or acute trauma to the auditory system. In addition to exposure to loud noises, the vast majority of cases are caused by sensorineural hearing loss, damage to the inner ear caused by illness, a head injury, aging or certain prescription drugs (antibiotics, painkillers, anti-anxiety, antidepressant and anti-cancer drugs and blood pressure medication, to name a few). Some common health problems, such as arthritis, hypertension, varicose veins and arteriosclerosis can also put you at a higher risk for tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a symptom of a wide range of underlying health issues and often exists at the same time as other health maladies. Health conditions associated with tinnitus include:
Hearing loss—a primary catalyst for tinnitus symptoms
Ménière’s Disease—a vestibular disorder in the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance
Hyperacusis—an abnormal, extreme sensitivity to noise, including environmental sounds at a normal volume
Misophonia—selective sound sensitivity
Phonophobia—fearful emotional reaction specific to loud sounds
Depression and anxiety can be contributing factors to tinnitus (or a consequence of it)
Although there is not a clinically proven cure for chronic tinnitus, there are tools to help you manage your condition and improve your quality of life.
The American Tinnitus Association recommends:
Exercising and maintaining overall good health
Exploring the use of sound therapy or hearing aids
Trying cognitive behavioral therapy to address tinnitus-related distress
Visiting a dental health professional to rule out jaw joint (temporomandibular joint, or TMJ) dysfunction
Experimenting with yoga poses to increase circulation in your ear and brain2
Looking into cutting-edge therapies that are currently in development
For Baby Boomers, cardiovascular exercise is vital to maintaining hearing health. Regular exercise—going for a walk or jog, doing yoga, or even playing in the yard with your grandchildren—can have a positive impact on your hearing. Exercising for just 30 minutes a day will create the heart rate and level of circulation that will protect your hearing.
If you listen to music while exercising, it’s important to keep the volume relatively quiet and comfortable. The rule is simple: don’t keep the volume more than 60 percent of the total available volume and take a break after 60 minutes of continuous listening.3
Outside of the gym, anything you can do to limit your exposure to loud noise—by moving away from the sound, turning down the volume in the car or while exercising or wearing earplugs around loud noises—at a concert, while mowing the lawn and on the job (if you work around loud noises). These simple steps will help prevent hearing loss and tinnitus or keep it from getting worse.
Schedule Your Hearing Assessment*Take the first step in having your hearing checked by a licensed hearing professional. It only takes a few minutes to book an appointment for your hearing assessment at a convenient location near you. Call 866-837-8286 (866-TEST-AT-60) or visit campaignforbetterhearing.us today.
1 Accessed January 31, 2019.
2www.omicsonline.org/open-access/improving-hearing-performance-through-yoga-2157-7595-1000194.php?aid=60619 Accessed January 31, 2019.
3www.asha.org/uploadedFiles/ASHA/Buds/WHO-Make-Listening-Safe-Campaign-Leaflet.pdf” Accessed January 31, 2019.