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Facts about Tinnitus: The Ear Ringing Condition that Afflicts Millions

By Edited Jul 10, 2015 0 6
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 loss
For 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 circulation
    Symbol for noise induced hearing loss warning
  • 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 Martin
constant 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 Ear
bother 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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Comments

Mar 27, 2014 5:04pm
slimjim270
@BoomerBill -

I too get that annoying ringing once and a while. Seems to be worse after watching TV.

I tend to be a bit loud during a conversation in hopes others crank up their volume to match mine.

I read that the ringing is caused by the brain being confused and trying to compensate for the "missing pitch" that it's not receiving. I am one who believes that may be the case.

I think it's just a result of being too foolish as teenager and bouncing my head off too many things... 3-4 bicycle accidents landing on pavement, playing soccer, bouncing off 4-5 trees with my snowmobile, and of course, skiing in New England always led to a couple of crusty face plants. Helmets weren't popular back in the '70-80s.

It is... what it is... and I just ignore it. I agree with your Mom and ignore the buzzing of family members trying to tell me what to do. As long as I'm facing someone, we communicate well and I enjoy looking at someones face during conversations. Communication isn't just the spoken word, it's the dynamic of the conversation and behavior (body language) that shares the emotion of the topic.

Funny you mention restaurants. I hate eating out.

My wife says I should get hearing aids... I jokingly tell her it's "selective hearing". And find a comfortable pillow to join me for a night on the couch. :)

-Jim
Mar 28, 2014 7:56am
BoomerBill
Thanks for reading Jim. I hope you and your pillow continue to adapt! From what I read, tinnitus comes from a variety of causes. You may have been unlucky enough to have hit on several of them.
Apr 13, 2014 11:54am
TheRiz
Good article.

For all the young musicians out there - don't act like wearing earplugs is "not cool."
Drop the "macho" BS. You will pay for long term loudness exposure, especially if you practice a lot.

As a musician, I've only recently started wearing earplugs at shows, and my ears thank me when I sleep at night.
Apr 14, 2014 7:04am
BoomerBill
Thanks. I still remember going to shows where I sat next to a big bank of speakers and couldn't hear the next day.
Apr 15, 2014 9:24pm
SuzyQinOrlando
I went to a concert once where I stood by a set of speakers. My friend kept pulling me away from the speakers but I kept gravitating towards them for some reason. I had already lost my hearing in my right ear due to sudden hearing loss so when I turned on the tv the next day and couldn't hear, I was terrified. Luckily, the hearing in my good ear came back after a day or so.

I get tinnitus in my right ear, the one I can't hear out of. Go figure.
Apr 16, 2014 4:38pm
BoomerBill
Thanks for reading! Watch out for those loud concerts.
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Bibliography

  1. American Tinnitus Association "About Tinnitus." ata.org. n/a/n/a/n/a. 10/03/2014 <Web >
  2. National Institutes of Health "Tinnitus." nlm.nih.gov. n/a/n/a/n/a. 10/03/2014 <Web >
  3. Kochkin, Tyler, and Born "MarkeTrak VIII: The Prevalence of Tinnitus in the United States and the Self-reported Efficacy of Various Treatments ." hearingreview.com. 1/11/2011. 10/03/2014 <Web >
  4. "'Terrible ringing in his ears and excruciating headaches': Chris Martin's secret ten-year hearing torment ." mirror.co.uk. 4/5/2012. 10/03/2014 <Web >
  5. Harvard Medical School "Tinnitus: Ringing in the ears and what to do about it." health.harvard.edu. n/a/9/2011. 10/03/2014 <Web >

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