Tinnitus is a condition that affects nearly 750 million people worldwide. It is characterized by a ringing or buzzing sound in the ears that can be annoying and disruptive. While there is no cure for tinnitus, there are ways to manage it and make it more bearable. If you’re struggling to cope with tinnitus, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can help. This article will give you a comprehensive overview of tinnitus, what causes it, and how to manage it.
What Is Tinnitus
Tinnitus is the perception of sound when there is no corresponding external sound. It is not a disease, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition. It can be a nuisance, but it is not usually associated with any serious health problems.
There are two main types of tinnitus: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is rare and is caused by muscle contractions or blood vessel problems. When muscles contract, they can create a clicking sound that can be heard by your doctor. Blood vessel problems can cause a whooshing sound.
Subjective tinnitus, which is much more common, is caused by problems with the auditory system. It is often described as a ringing, buzzing, or hissing sound, but is not a noise that is created by an external source.
What Does Tinnitus Sound Like
Aside from the two types of tinnitus, there are three distinct varieties: pulsatile, tonal, and musical. Pulsatile tinnitus occurs in rhythms that match your heartbeat. Tonal tinnitus comes as a nearly continuous sound within a set of frequencies. Musical tinnitus gives the sensation of hearing music or singing voices.
Tinnitus can be transient, intermittent, or continuous, meaning that it comes and goes or is always present. It also varies in pitch and loudness, and it may be accompanied by a feeling of fullness in the ears. It is often most noticeable when you are in a quiet environment (when you are trying to sleep), but it can also be exacerbated by stress, anxiety, and certain medications. There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments that can help to reduce its severity. In most cases, it will go away on its own over time.
Inside our ears, tiny hair cells convert sound waves into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain. Tinnitus can occur when these hair cells are damaged or killed by loud noise, medications, aging, or other factors. Some of the more common causes of tinnitus include:
- Exposure to loud noise: This is the most common cause of tinnitus. Repeated exposure to loud noise can damage the hair cells in the ears, leading to tinnitus.
- Earwax buildup: Earwax is a natural substance that helps to protect the ears from dirt and debris. However, too much earwax can block the ear canal and cause tinnitus.
- Ear infections: Infections of the middle ear (otitis media) are a common cause of tinnitus in children.
- Age-related hearing loss: As we age, our hearing starts to decline. This is due to the natural deterioration of the hair cells in the ears and the auditory system overall. Tinnitus is more common in older adults as a result.
- Meniere’s disease: Meniere’s disease: is a disorder of the inner ear that can cause vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus.
- Head or neck injuries: Injury to the head or neck can damage the auditory nerve, which can lead to tinnitus.
- Drug side effects: Some medications, such as aspirin and other painkillers, antibiotics, cancer treatments, diuretics, and antidepressants, can cause tinnitus.
There are also a number of other less common causes of tinnitus, such as medications, tumors, and hormonal changes. In many cases, tinnitus is caused by nothing. It can impact someone who is perfectly healthy and who shows no signs of hearing loss.
Additional Triggers for Tinnitus
In addition to the several potential causes of tinnitus, there are multiple triggers that can make the symptoms worse. These include:
- Alcohol consumption
- Smoking tobacco products
- Certain foods
How Is Tinnitus Diagnosed
When considering how tinnitus is diagnosed, it’s important to remember that tinnitus itself is not a disease. Rather, it is a symptom of an underlying condition. The diagnosis of tinnitus usually begins with a thorough medical history and physical examination.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and when they began. They will also ask about your medical history, including any medications you are taking, any hearing problems you have had in the past, and any head or neck injuries you have sustained.
In some cases, your doctor may also order a hearing test (audiology exam) to rule out any underlying hearing loss. Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, may also be ordered if your doctor suspects that there is another condition causing your tinnitus. By conducting these exams, your doctor will be able to determine whether your tinnitus is caused by an underlying condition that can be treated.
How Is Tinnitus Treated
In plenty of cases, tinnitus comes and goes and is never bad enough to seek medical treatment for. However, for some people, the condition can be quite debilitating. Treatment for this condition also depends on what its root cause is. If it is due to an underlying condition, such as Meniere’s disease or an ear infection, treating that condition should also help to alleviate its symptoms (including tinnitus). There are plenty of other things that can help alleviate tinnitus:
Sound therapy works by providing background noise (often called “white noise”) that can help to mask the tinnitus and make it less bothersome. This can be done with a white noise machine, mobile app, or even by simply playing soft music. There are a few different types of sound therapy:
- Maskers: These devices look like hearing aids and fit in the ear. They produce a continuous, low-level white noise that helps to mask the tinnitus.
- Hearing aids: In some cases, hearing aids can help to alleviate tinnitus. This is because they can improve hearing, making the ringing less noticeable. To get a hearing aid, you can check out a clinic like HearCanada.
- Notched music: This is a type of music that has been specifically designed to help people with tinnitus. It uses special sounds and frequencies to help “retrain” the brain and make the tinnitus less bothersome.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This is a type of counseling that can help people with different types of conditions, including tinnitus. It can help people to manage their stress and anxiety, which can make the symptoms of tinnitus less bothersome.
Cognitive behavioral therapy works by changing the way people think about and react to their tinnitus. It can help them to better cope with the condition and to make it less of a problem in their day-to-day lives. It typically includes:
- Relaxation techniques: These can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can make tinnitus less bothersome.
- Stress management: This can involve different techniques, such as time management and problem-solving skills. It can help people to better cope with the stress of having tinnitus.
- Cognitive restructuring: This helps people to change the way they think about tinnitus and how it affects their lives. It can help them to see tinnitus in a more positive light and to make it less of a problem.
This form of treatment does not cure the actual symptom itself, but it can help people to cope better with it.
Medications and Supplements
There are a few different types of medications that can be used to treat tinnitus:
- Antidepressants: These can help to reduce stress and anxiety, which can make tinnitus less bothersome.
- Anti-anxiety medications: These can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, making tinnitus less bothersome.
- Steroids: In some cases, steroids can be used to help reduce inflammation. This can help to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus.
- Nootropics: These are a type of medication that can help to improve cognitive function. Nootropics can also help to reduce stress and anxiety, making tinnitus less bothersome. And some supplements like GABA can also help with relaxation and sleep quality.
Which Nootropics Help With Tinnitus
- Ginkgo biloba: This is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions. Ginkgo biloba is thought to help improve circulation and to reduce inflammation. It also protects against free radicals, which cause damage to cells.
- GABA: This is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It is involved in many different processes, including stress relief and relaxation. GABA supplements can help to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.
- Valerian root: This is an herbal supplement that has been used for centuries to treat insomnia and anxiety. Valerian root is thought to work by increasing levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. This helps to promote relaxation and can improve sleep quality.
- L-theanine: This is an amino acid that is found in green tea. L-theanine is thought to promote relaxation and to improve sleep quality.
- 5-HTP: This is a compound that is involved in the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood and sleep. 5-HTP supplements can help to reduce anxiety and promote sleep.
- Magnesium: This mineral is known for its role in muscle and energy production. It is also involved in many different biochemical reactions in the body. Magnesium supplements can also help reduce anxiety.
8 Tips for Managing Tinnitus Symptoms
There is no universal solution for managing tinnitus. It often takes trial and error to find what works best. However, there are a few general things that can help:
1. Get plenty of sleep
Sleep deprivation can be a cause of chronic tinnitus. To make sure you get enough sleep, stick to a regular sleep schedule and make sure your bedroom is quiet and dark. It is also best to avoid electronics in the bedroom. If you need to use a computer or phone before bed, try using an app that filters out blue light or using blue light glasses.
2. Avoid loud noise exposure
If you’ve ever been to a loud concert or worked in a noisy environment and then felt your ears “ringing” afterward, you know how damaging loud noise can be to the ears. While changing your career and avoiding fun concerts and shows might not be realistic, you can still take steps to protect your ears from further damage. When you know you’ll be exposed to loud noise, make sure to wear earplugs or earmuffs. And when you’re at a concert or show, try to stand further away from the speakers.
3. Manage stress and anxiety
Stress and anxiety can make tinnitus worse, so it’s important to find ways to relax and manage stress. There are a few different relaxation techniques you can try, such as:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
If you’re not sure how to get started, there are many apps and websites that offer guidance on relaxation techniques.
4. Exercise regularly.
Exercise improves blood circulation and can help to reduce inflammation. This can in turn help to lessen the symptoms of tinnitus. It’s important to find an exercise routine that works for you and stick with it. If you don’t like going to the gym, there are many other options, such as:
You could also try a fitness class or an activity tracker to help you stay motivated.
5. Make dietary changes.
There are a few different things you can eat or avoid eating that might help to lessen the symptoms of tinnitus. For example, some people find that reducing their intake of salt helps. Others find that increasing their intake of magnesium, zinc, or vitamin B12 helps. You might also want to try an elimination diet to see if any particular foods make your tinnitus worse.
6. Quit smoking.
While the potential health benefits of quitting smoking are well-known, many people are not aware of the link between smoking and tinnitus. Studies have shown that smokers are more likely to experience tinnitus than nonsmokers and that the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of tinnitus, as well as a host of other health problems.
7. Limit alcohol consumption.
Alcohol consumption increases blood flow to the inner ear, which can make tinnitus worse. When these cells are impacted by alcohol, the ringing or buzzing sound can become more pronounced.
8. Try nootropics.
Nootropics are a type of supplement that can help to improve cognitive function. Some kinds of nootropics are also used to improve focus and concentration, help users get better sleep, and reduce stress and anxiety. Ashwagandha, GABA, and L-theanine are all examples of nootropics that have been shown to help with tinnitus.
Tinnitus is one of the most common health conditions in the world. While irritating, the good news is that there are many things you can do to lessen the symptoms. If you’re struggling with tinnitus, try following some of the tips in this guide. And if you’re still having trouble, be sure to talk to your doctor about other treatment options.