Pete Townsend
Credit: wikipedia commons public domain - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Stti

Ringing in the Ears is a Common Affliction

Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head when no external source is present.[1]  The condition is an affliction that bedevils and annoys many sufferers.  There are millions who deal with this on a daily basis.  My Mom suffers from the ear ringing symptoms.  She also has hearing loss.  Mom has purchased several hearing aids over the years and none have helped her much.  She’ll meet or come in contact with an audiologist representative who will tell her that the latest hearing aid they offer will assist with tinnitus and she’ll give the hearing aid a try.  Several thousand dollars later she still suffers from the condition and can’t hear any better.  The hearing aids merely increase the volume of the ear ringing for her without making her hearing any better.

Symbol for deafness and hearing lossCredit: wikipedia common public domain - State of Rhode IslandFor those of us who speak with Mom regularly, it’s a challenge.  She tries to “fake it” most of the time and will pretend to hear what you say instead of saying she didn’t hear the conversation.  I might have told her about the latest challenge or concern relating to one of her grandchildren and she’ll say “that’s nice” or agree with some statement that in a context that makes no sense.  Luckily for those of us who know and love her, she is quite adept at email.  If I really want to get a point across to her I’ll lob her an email to make sure she understands what I’m saying.  The affliction is maddening for her.  Having tinnitus reduces her quality of life and makes her avoid certain loud venues, such as restaurants.

What are the Causes?

  • Noise exposure[2] – Hair cells called cilia line the inner ear.  Exposure to loud noises can damage or destroy the cilia. These hair cells cannot be replaced once they are damaged.
  • Head and neck trauma - Physical trauma to the head and neck can tinnitus symptoms. The ear ringing is often coupled with headaches, vertigo or loss of memory.
  • Certain diseases or conditions, including thyroid disorders, Lyme disease and fibromyalgia, can have tinnitus as a symptom.
  • Certain types of tumors
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Misalignment of the jaw
  • Cardiovascular disease or reduced blood circulationSymbol for noise induced hearing loss warningCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - User talk:Sarang
  • Medications – some medications have ototoxicity as a side effect.  In other words, they are toxic to the ear. Other medications can induce tinnitus symptoms without actually damaging the inner ear. These side effects can be temporary in nature or they may be permanent.
  • Pulsatile tinnitus – although not common, this type of tinnitus produces sounds similar to a rhythmic pulsing in the ear, often in synch with one's heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus can be caused by abnormal blood flow close to the inner ear or brain tumors and other irregularity in brain structure.[1] 

How Many People Suffer from Tinnitus Symptoms?

Millions are Afflicted

The short answer is that millions of folks have ear ringing symptoms.  A recent study estimates that about ten to fifteen percent of the United States population,[3] which correlates to over 30 million people, have to deal with tinnitus.  The ear ringing symptoms appear to increase as we grow older.  The symptoms not only afflict the ear, tinnitus has been shown to have an impact on a person’s emotional well-being, sleeping ability to sleep and the ability to concentrate. The Chris MartinCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - FEbenspergerconstant annoyance of tinnitus symptoms can provoke fear or anguish.  Although beginning with ear ringing, the condition can impact people in many ways.

High Profile Tinnitus Sufferers

Several celebrities have revealed their tinnitus affliction, including Pete Townsend of The Who and Chris Martin of Coldplay.[4]  One can understand that rock musicians could be afflicted
 given that loud music is an occupational hazard.  I know I used to blast the stereo on a constant basis and I'm not musically inclined.  Many of us growing up in the sixties and seventies listened to music as loud as humanly possible without concern for later ear repurcussions.  Other reported sufferers include Sylvester Stallone, Larry King, Cheryl Tiegs, Morgan Fairchild, Steve Martin and Leonard Nimoy.  The condition doesn’t just afflict musicians among its celebrity sufferers. 

Hearing Aids?

Hearing aids can help those suffering from tinnitus who also have hearing loss.  Typically, hearing aids are effective for amplifying sound, which is why they work well for hearing loss.  Ringing of the ear is more complicated, given that hearing aids don’t work to decrease the ringing sensation, as attested to by my Mom.  For her, the only thing the hearing aids do is Diagram of the EarCredit: wikipedia commons public domain - User:Iainbother those around her with the noises they make if not adjusted properly.  Nevertheless, some of those who suffer from ringing of the ear do report some assistance with hearing aids.  A visit to an audiologist can help to determine if a hearing aid helps your condition.  If you have visited the audiologist and are considering a hearing aid, it is a good idea to see if you can use the hearing aid on a trial basis to see if it helps the tinnitus.  You could be making a significant investment in your hearing that turns out not to help.

Given that tinnitus can arise from different causes that impact the ear in differing ways, a one size fits all strategy for limiting or managing tinnitus isn't really possible.  There is not a cure for the condition unless it is generated by an underlying medical condition that's cured or resolved.  A Harvard Medical School article theorizes that for some sufferers the noise in the ear is something like phantom pain for those without a limb.[5]  The brain adds its own stimulus when the auditory pathway signals are somehow lacking.

Chronic ear ringing is an annoying condition for many.  For some, it erodes their quality of life.  Dealing with the condition can be a challenge given that the causes of the symptoms are not uniform for all sufferers.

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