Do you have a ringing in your ears or hear sounds that no one else seems to experience? You might have tinnitus. Read on to see if you’re affected.
Tinnitus what we call the ability to hear noises that aren’t caused by anything around us. It is usually linked to hearing loss caused by normal ageing or exposure to loud sounds, but it could also be the result of other ear conditions too. Although annoying, it’s not usually a sign of any serious conditions by itself, and generally gets better over time.
About 10 percent of the U.S. adult population, around 25 million Americans, has had tinnitus lasting at least five minutes over the past year. For people aged 65 to 84 years, approximately 27 percent have tinnitus.
Anyone, at any age, can experience tinnitus. There are cases of children getting tinnitus, but it’s more widespread in older adults. You might have already experienced it for a short time – maybe you went to a particularly loud concert or have recently recovered from a cold infection. Although concerning, these short bouts of ringing are usually nothing to worry about. If they regularly last the length of the day however, then it’s time to seek medical attention.
What it sounds like
There are a full range of tinnitus sounds. Many describe it as ‘ringing in the ears’, but it can also sound like hissing, sizzling, buzzing, whooshing or white noise.
Individual experiences of tinnitus can vary wildly. It might be a single sound or even two competing sounds. It might be low, medium or high-frequency. It might take over your whole day, or it might only last a few minutes. A few people get ‘pulsatile tinnitus’, which is a rhythmic sound which beats to the tempo of your heart. On rare occasions, tinnitus can even get ‘musical hallucinations’, which sound like parts of melodies or songs.
Tinnitus is often temporary, but for a significant number of sufferers it can be persistent enough to cause annoyance. 40% of those with tinnitus experience sounds which last for 80% of their day. An estimated 1 in 4 tinnitus sufferers say their tinnitus is loud, with a further 1 in 5 admitting their condition is ‘disabling’ or ‘nearly disabling’.
We don’t know for sure where tinnitus comes from, but most cases of tinnitus are associated with hearing loss due from damage of the inner ear through normal ageing or exposure to loud noise. Less commonly, tinnitus is associated with conductive hearing loss which is caused by an obstruction or ear condition that afflicts the outer or middle ear, and stops sound from passing into the ear canal.
How it affects people
Tinnitus affects people in different ways, depending on the severity and how people respond to it. Many with tinnitus only find it mildly annoying and find it doesn’t affect their day-to-day life a great deal. Those who experience louder and more persistent sounds might find that tinnitus has a big impact on their life. It can lead to difficult sleeping, hearing and a general sense of anxiety.
Fortunately for many people, tinnitus is becoming easier to manage, and it tends to get less noticeable the longer people have it. The brain gets better at filtering the noise and makes it recede further into the background. This is called ‘habituation’ and is the goal of many therapies which treat tinnitus symptoms. There are many ways you can manage tinnitus so that it doesn’t affect your everyday life so much.
Are you experiencing tinnitus which is affecting your everyday life?
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