Do You Know What Tinnitus is?
Having a noise in your head that won’t go away may seem like a nightmare – but if you want to get to the bottom of it, you need to ask “What is tinnitus?”.
Note: This page was last updated on Thursday 16th of February 2017
If it makes you feel any better, you are not the only one asking this question!
In fact, it’s estimated that 17% of the world’s population suffers from a nagging noise like ringing in the ears, so there are millions of people who are also asking what tinnitus is!
OK, so what is tinnitus?
It is most commonly described as a ringing or a buzzing in the ears.
However, it can also sound like hissing, roaring, humming, like running water, or even like the sound you hear when you hold a seashell up to your ear.
The sound may be constant (a condition called “tonal tinnitus”), it may only come at certain times or it may be synced up with your heartbeat (a condition called “pulsatile tinnitus”).
The only problem is none of the sounds are caused by anything around you… Instead, you are the only one who can hear them!
OK, everyone has SOME noise in their head. None of us live in a sound-proof booth after all! If you lay awake in a silent room at night, you will hear some kind of noise. However, it shouldn’t have an impact on your daily life.
Sadly, many people who have tinnitus have trouble functioning.
The good news is that tinnitus is not usually a sign of a major health problem. Instead, it’s more of a nuisance.
Unfortunately, it is a significant nuisance that can cause people to lose sleep, miss out on interesting conversations and feel like they never truly get any peace and quiet.
Making things worse, tinnitus can lead to headaches, dizziness, pain in your ears, and that uncomfortable feeling that your ears are full. Depending on the severity of your tinnitus, you may lose some of your hearing, but it won’t cause you to go completely deaf.
What is tinnitus caused by?
A number of things – like an injury to your ear, an infection, excess fluid either in your ear canal or in your brain, a disease in your ear bones or ear drum, certain medications, or even just plain ol’ aging.
Even sticking Q-tips in your ear can do it, since the Q-tip can push wax up against your ear drum and cause structural damage.
The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the hearing nerve that sits in your inner ear. This damage can occur in two ways – through exposure to an abnormally-loud noise (like a gunshot) or through advanced aging.
In very rare cases, tinnitus can be caused by abnormalities in the brain – like tumors or aneurysms. That is why, if you have symptoms of tinnitus, you need a doctor to check everything out. A CT scan or an MRI can rule out a brain tumor, and x-rays can make sure that there aren’t any structural problems inside your head that are causing the noise.
Even if a brain problem is not to blame, your doctor will still need to do some testing to figure out exactly what kind of tinnitus you are dealing with. Your doctor will give you an audiogram (which is really just a fancy word for a hearing test) to see how bad the problem is.
As part of the test, your doctor will determine how loud the noise is, how loud outside sounds have to be to mask it, and what frequency the noise is at.
What is tinnitus aggravated by?
It can vary from person to person. However, there are a couple of things that most tinnitus sufferers complain about.
Unfortunately, many of them describe winding up in a nasty cycle. They can’t sleep because the noise in their ears keeps them awake.
Then, in the morning, fatigue makes the noise worse. They drink a lot of coffee to try and stay awake, but caffeine has also been proven to make tinnitus symptoms worse. As a result, they lose even more sleep!
Can you imagine anything more frustrating?
And that is not all.
Exposure to loud noises can also make your tinnitus worse, so be sure to wear hearing protection (like earplugs) any time you’re going to be around something loud.
Stress and anxiety can also make the problem worse. That’s a major problem because some people with tinnitus develop depression.
They feel isolated because they can’t hear everything clearly. Some feel hopeless about ever getting better. Others are depressed because they believe they have mental problems. After all, you are not supposed to hear imaginary noises!
What is used to cure tinnitus?
That is the most heartbreaking part – modern medicine has yet to find a cure.
Many doctors recommend doing things to lessen the symptoms. For example, sleeping with a white noise machine can help drown out the noise in your ears.
A hearing aid can amplify outside sounds and mask the internal noise.
Even sleeping with an extra pillow can reduce congestion and, thus, the pressure on your ears.
Now that you know everything about it, it is time to stop asking “What is tinnitus?” and, instead, ask yourself, “What can I do to make my tinnitus better?”