What do William Shatner, Liza Minelli, Keanu Reeves, and Barbara Streisand all have in common? They all suffer from tinnitus, a chronic healing condition that causes a persistent, ringing, humming, hissing, or buzzing noise. Tinnitus affects millions of people in the United States and around the world, and it’s not only a present-day problem. Some of history’s most illustrious figures suffered from tinnitus, too, including Michelangelo, Martin Luther, Vincent van Gogh, and Beethoven.
Aside from the inability to “turn off” the noises, one of the most frustrating aspects of tinnitus is that in almost all cases, the sounds can only be heard by the person with tinnitus, making it especially frustrating to deal with and very challenging to treat. At ENT Specialists, we help patients throughout Utah manage tinnitus symptoms with state-of-the-art hearing aids designed to limit those annoying noises, vastly improving overall quality of life. Here’s what you should know about tinnitus, its causes, and its treatments.
How tinnitus develops
People with tinnitus hear persistent sounds even without any external cause. Most times, tinnitus develops when tiny “hair cells” inside your ear become damaged. Hair cells help detect soundwaves and convert them into electrical signals that are transported to your brain. The brain uses those signals to create the sensations of specific sounds. When hair cells are damaged, the signals they send are distorted, and in some cases, the cells can send signals even when no external sound is present.
Hair cells can become damaged for lots of reasons. Recurrent ear infections, exposure to loud noises, and age-related changes can all cause hair cell damage, and so can underlying diseases and even some types of medications. Blood vessel disorders and conditions like high blood pressure can also cause humming or buzzing noises inside your ears. Since hair cells are also involved in our sense of balance, some people with tinnitus may also experience bouts of dizziness or problems with balance.
In most cases, tinnitus is not a sign of a serious problem. But when symptoms are severe or when its onset is sudden, it could be a sign of an underlying medical issue. Even when the cause of tinnitus is benign, as in most cases, the constant ringing, buzzing, or clicking can be distracting enough to interfere with regular activities — and it can even cause excessive anxiety or depression. For these reasons, it’s always important to have tinnitus evaluated — even when the symptoms seem relatively mild and “harmless.”
Treating tinnitus with a hearing aid
You might think a hearing aid is only meant for correcting hearing loss, but they can also be helpful in treating the symptoms of tinnitus. Today’s hearing aids can be finely tuned to increase the volume of external noises so the humming and ringing noises of tinnitus fade into the background. By increasing external sounds, your brain can focus its attention on those outside sounds, while paying less attention to the symptoms caused by tinnitus.
Some hearing aids offer “masking” noises to make the symptoms of tinnitus less noticeable (and less stressful). These devices provide a low stimulating sound, like the sound of gentle waves or white noise, allowing the tinnitus sounds to “get lost” in the more soothing sounds that surround them.
If you have very “loud” or intrusive tinnitus symptoms, a hearing aid can also help by making it easier to hear other sounds, like conversations or the television. Improving hearing can help reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and isolation that often go hand in hand with hearing problems like tinnitus.
Manage your tinnitus
Tinnitus is more than annoying — it can take a toll on your quality of life and contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety. At ENT Specialists, we offer custom solutions to help our patients manage their tinnitus symptoms so they feel more relaxed and comfortable. If you suffer from tinnitus, we can help. Call one of our five Utah locations or use our online form to book your appointment online today.