What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is usually described as a ringing within the ears, but it can also sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. You might hear it in either one or both ears. Roughly 10 percent of the adult population of the us has experienced tinnitus lasting a minimum of five minutes within the past year. This amounts to nearly 25 million Americans.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus isn't a disease. It is a symbol that something is wrong within the sensory system, which incorporates the ear, the acoustic nerve that connects the internal ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. Something as simple as a bit of earwax blocking the auditory meatus can cause tinnitus. But it can also be the result of a number of health conditions, such as:
Ø Noise-induced hearing loss
Ø Ear and sinus infections
Ø Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
Ø Ménière’s disease
Ø Brain tumors
Ø Hormonal changes in women
Ø Thyroid abnormalities
Why do I even have this noise in my ears?
Although we hear tinnitus in our ears, its source is basically within the networks of brain cells (what scientists call neural circuits) that add up of the sounds our ears hear. A way to believe tinnitus is that it often begins within the ear, but it continues within the brain.
Scientists still haven’t prescribed what happens within the brain to make the illusion of sound when there's none. Some think that tinnitus is analogous to chronic pain syndrome, during which the pain persists even after a wound or broken bone has healed.
Tinnitus might be the results of the brain’s neural circuits trying to adapt to the loss of whisker cells by turning up the sensitivity to sound. This would explain why some people with tinnitus are oversensitive to bang .
Tinnitus also could be the result of neural circuits thrown out of balance when damage in the inner ear changes signaling activity in the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound. Or it might be the results of abnormal interactions between neural circuits. The neural circuits involved in hearing aren’t solely dedicated to processing sound. They also communicate with other parts of the brain, like the limbic region, which regulates mood and emotion.
What should I do if I have tinnitus?
The first thing is to ascertain your medical care doctor, who will check if anything, like ear wax, is obstructing the auditory meatus . Your doctor will ask you about your current health, medical conditions, and medications to find out if an underlying condition is causing your tinnitus.
If your doctor cannot find any medical condition liable for your tinnitus, you'll be mentioned an otolaryngologist (commonly called an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or an ENT). The ENT will physically examine your head, neck, and ears and test your hearing to work out whether you've got any deafness along side the tinnitus. You might even be mentioned an audiologist who also can measure your hearing and evaluate your tinnitus.
Are there treatments that can help me?
Tinnitus doesn't have a cure yet, but treatments that help many of us cope better with the condition are available. Most doctors will offer a combination of the treatments below; depending on the severity of your tinnitus and the areas of your life it affects the most.
Ø Hearing aids often are helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using a hearing aid adjusted to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to listen to. The better you hear, the less you may notice your tinnitus.
Ø Counseling helps you learn how to live with your tinnitus. Most counseling programs have an academic component to assist you understand what goes on within the brain to cause tinnitus. Some counseling programs also will assist you change the way you think that about and react to your tinnitus. You might learn some things to do on your own to make the noise less noticeable, to help you relax during the day, or to fall asleep at night.
Ø Wearable sound generators are small electronic devices that fit in the ear and use a soft, pleasant sound to help mask the tinnitus. Some people want the masking sound to totally cover their tinnitus, but most prefer a masking level that's just a touch louder than their tinnitus. The masking sound are often a soft random tones, or music.
Ø Tabletop sound generators are used as an aid for relaxation or sleep. Placed near your bed, you'll program a generator to play pleasant sounds like waves, waterfalls, rain, or the sounds of a summer night. If your tinnitus is mild, this could be all you would like to assist you nod off .
Ø Acoustic neural stimulation is a relatively new technique for people whose tinnitus is very loud or won’t go away. It uses a palm-sized device and headphones to deliver a broadband acoustic signal embedded in music. The treatment helps stimulate change within the neural circuits within the brain, which eventually desensitizes you to the tinnitus. The device has been shown to be effective in reducing or eliminating tinnitus during a significant number of study volunteers.
Ø Cochlear implants are sometimes used in people who have tinnitus along with severe hearing loss. A cochlear implant bypasses the damaged portion of the internal ear and sends electrical signals that directly stimulate the acoustic nerve. The device brings in outside sounds that help mask tinnitus and stimulate change within the neural circuits. Read the NIDCD fact sheet Cochlear Implants for more information.
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