Do you experience a ringing in your ears? If so, you are not alone. Tinnitus affects an estimated 50 million Americans—about 20% of the population. It can range from a mild annoyance to a full-fledged problem that severely impacts your quality of life.
What is Tinnitus?
The first thing to remember is this: tinnitus is not a condition, but rather, a symptom of an underlying problem. The list of conditions that can cause tinnitus is extensive, and includes:
- Hearing loss
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorder
- Head/neck trauma
- Ototoxic medications
- Benign tumors
Tinnitus can strike people of all ages, but there are certain risk factors: tinnitus is most likely to affect older individuals, males, smokers and those with cardiovascular issues. In addition to a ringing in the ears (which may also manifest as a buzzing, whistling, roaring, whooshing, clicking or similar sound), you might experience fatigue, anxiety, depression, irritability and difficulties with memory and concentration.
What Treatments are Available for Tinnitus?
Because tinnitus is a side effect of an underlying condition, identifying the problem may lead to a medical or surgical solution. Unfortunately, in many cases the exact cause of tinnitus can’t be identified, or treatment is not possible.
There is no cure for tinnitus itself, but symptoms can often be managed successfully through a number of different strategies. These include:
- Acoustic therapy. Sounds are used to cover up, or mask, the tinnitus. This distracts your brain and helps you “tune out” the ringing in your ears. Electronic devices that produce white noise, air conditioners, fans, soft music, etc. can all be employed.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy. Similar in concept to acoustic therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy utilizes a portable sound generator that produces soft patterned tones to help desensitize the brain to the sounds of tinnitus.
- Hearing aids. Many hearing aid users simply turn up the volume on their devices to amplify speech and background noise, reducing the contrast between tinnitus and silence and making the ringing in their ears less distracting.
- Counseling. Counseling and cognitive behavioral or relaxation therapy can be helpful in reducing the stress, anxiety and sleeplessness that are often associated with tinnitus. Self-hypnosis may also prove beneficial.
- Biofeedback. Biofeedback therapy is a process in which you are connected to electrodes that detect involuntary body signals in response to tinnitus. A computer analyzes these signals and you are taught different techniques designed to help you control your response to tinnitus.
- Alternative treatments. A variety of alternative and natural approaches to treating tinnitus exist. These include hypnosis, acupuncture, naturopathy, herbal remedies, electrical stimulation and more.