Do you have a constant ringing in your ears? Is it worse when you're in a quiet room? Do you struggle to concentrate or sleep because of it?
If so, you may have tinnitus.
At least two-thirds of Australian's suffer from tinnitus at some point during their lifetime. For most, tinnitus is temporary. But for some, it's a long-term problem that can severely impact hearing and concentration.
We're here to answer 7 frequently asked tinnitus questions to help you understand and minimise your tinnitus problems.
1. What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus (pronounced tin-ni-tus) is an underlying problem in the auditory system. This includes the outer, middle, and inner ear. It is commonly described as a ringing in the ears, but can also sound like a roaring, clicking, chirping, or hissing sound.
Those with tinnitus will hear it in either one or both ears. The ringing can vary in loudness but usually gets worse in a quiet area. Because of this, people can struggle to sleep and will often find it hard to concentrate on quiet tasks, such as reading or writing.
There are two main types of tinnitus:
- Subjective tinnitus
- Objective tinnitus
Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus and is noises in your ear that only you can hear. Objective tinnitus is a noise that others around you can hear. It is also the rarer of the two.
2. How Is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
If you suspect you have tinnitus, you will need to visit your local hearing clinician. They will examine your ears and ask you for a general history of your health.
Then, your hearing clinician will do a simple hearing test.
This will indicate whether or not you can hear within the 'normal range'. Generally, you will wear a set of headphones that sends beeps and whistles (called pure tones) at a high frequency. They will then ask you to indicate when you can hear the sounds.
If you pass, great. If not, your hearing clinician will advise you on the next steps. This may include a referral to a specialist, monitoring your symptoms, or discussing treatment options.
3. What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?
For most, tinnitus is caused when someone exposes themselves to loud noises over a long period of time. However, there are many other reasons you may have tinnitus, including:
- High blood pressure
- Head or neck injuries
- Meniere's disease
- Ear infection
- Hearing loss
In some cases, it's difficult to pinpoint the exact reason, or it could be a combination of two or more.
4. Who Gets Tinnitus?
People of all ages can get tinnitus, although it's more common in older adults and those exposed to higher levels of noise. This can include:
- Elderly people
- Industrial workers
Many famous musicians suffer from tinnitus because of their exposure to harmful levels of noise. Noise levels above 85 decibels (dB) are more likely to cause hearing problems. To put that in perspective, a normal conversation is around 60 dB while a rock concert sits at about 120 dB.
People who listen to loud music are also at risk, including television, stereo, and radio that is played at maximum volume.
5. Does Tinnitus Damage Hearing?
Although tinnitus is usually associated with hearing loss, they are actually separate conditions. That means that they do not directly affect one another. But just because you have tinnitus, it doesn't mean you don't also have hearing loss.
Often, people who suffer from severe tinnitus will also have some form of hearing loss and vice versa. They may not even realise they have both.
If you expose yourself to extremely loud noises, you may experience temporary tinnitus. But it's not likely to damage your hearing. Still, if you are concerned, talk to your local hearing clinician and discuss getting your hearing checked out.
6. Is Tinnitus Curable?
There is no current cure for tinnitus. However, there are treatment options to reduce and manage your symptoms. These include:
- Hearing aids
- Switching medications
- Noise suppression (a white noise machine)
- Earwax removal
- Treating an underlying blood vessel condition
In some cases, medication may be used to treat severe cases of tinnitus. This is especially true for people who also have an underlying condition. And, for those experiencing depression and anxiety, often associated with tinnitus.
Remember, tinnitus can be temporary or it may be long-term. If you suffer from long-term tinnitus, treatment and certain lifestyle changes can make a difference. Treatment can make your symptoms less annoying and improve your quality of life.
Talk to your local hearing clinician to discuss the right treatment plan for you.
7. How Do You Prevent Tinnitus?
In some cases, tinnitus is unavoidable. But for others, there are preventative steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of not getting tinnitus. They include:
- Protecting your ears
- Distancing yourself from loud noises (at concerts)
- Reducing music volume
- Limiting time spent around loud noises
- Quitting smoking
- Staying healthy and active
It's also important to de-stress. Stress can cause muscle spasms, which can heighten the noises in your ear. Try to practice meditation, yoga, or simply go for a walk outside.
Of course, the best way to prevent tinnitus is to protect your ears. Your ears are delicate organs, so it's important to look after them to prevent tinnitus and hearing loss.
Your Tinnitus Questions Answered
Now that we have answered your tinnitus questions, it's time to talk about your hearing.
If you suspect you have tinnitus, it's important to know you don't have to put up with it. Often, tinnitus can be managed or reduced. But first, you'll need a hearing test.
At Country Hearing Care, we are committed to helping those in rural and regional Australia hear better. Our mission is to care for you and your long-term health.
If you think you may have tinnitus or are struggling to hear, book a hearing test with us today.