In this post we’re going to answer some common questions about Tinnitus and try and provide comfort to those who suffer from this annoying and sometimes debilitating medical issue.
So what is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus can be described as the perception of ringing or other noise in the ears. This ringing or noise is not actually occurring in the physical world – it’s the sensation of hearing a sound when there’s actually no external sound. Have you ever had this experience, where you heard a specific sound but you weren’t sure where it was coming from? That experience is tinnitus. Interestingly, tinnitus itself isn’t a condition – it’s actually an indicator of an underlying condition like age-related hearing loss, an ear injury, or a disorder of the circulatory system.
The types of phantom noises experienced by tinnitus sufferers might include any of the following –
- Static or ‘white noise’
Because these sounds don’t actually exist in the outer world, tinnitus can become a very stressful experience for people who suffer from it. The noise tinnitus sufferers experience may vary in pitch from a high squeal to a lower roar, and these noises can be heard in one or both ears. For some unfortunate sufferers, the noise can be so loud that it interferes with the person’s ability to concentrate or hear actual external sounds. Fortunately for many people, tinnitus comes and goes, but there are others who suffer with permanent tinnitus.
A study determined that around 1 in 4 people who experience tinnitus described the noises they heard as ‘loud’. It also determined that, at some point in our lives, most of us will experience this condition. It may be that you hear a slight buzzing or ringing in your ear, or it could be a drilling, beeping, or other noise. You may even experience tinnitus after being exposed to a loud noise for a period of time, or when you enter a quiet environment after leaving a noisy one.
What Causes Tinnitus and Is There a Cure?
There are 2 types of tinnitus – Subjective and Objective Tinnitus.
Subjective Tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus – it’s when only you can hear the noise. This type of tinnitus can be caused by problems in the inner, middle, or outer ear; it might also be caused by issues with the auditory pathways – the part of the brain where nerve signals are interpreted as sound – or issues with the auditory (hearing) nerves.
Objective Tinnitus is when, on examination, your doctor will also be able to hear the noise. While this is rather rare, Objective Tinnitus can be the result of a blood vessel issue, a condition with the middle-ear bone, or muscle contractions
Why Do People Get Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is typically caused by one of the following conditions –
- Age-related hearing loss
- Earwax blockage
- Exposure to loud noise
- Ear bone changes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Exposure to loud noise
- Hormonal imbalances (women)
- Thyroid disorder
- Ear, head, or neck injury
- Certain medications, including cancer medication, antibiotics, antidepressants, and diuretics.
Less common causes of tinnitus include –
- Meniere’s Disease (an inner ear disorder possibly caused by fluid pressure)
- TMJ disorders: (Problems with the temporomandibular joint can cause tinnitus)
- Acoustic Neuroma: (A noncancerous tumour on the cranial nerve, also known as vestibular schwannoma).
- Inner Ear Muscle Spasms: (May be caused by multiple sclerosis or neurological diseases, but often occurs for no explainable reason)
Tinnitus and Stress
Figures obtained as of March 2019 from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed that around 7.1 million people in the UK aged between 17 and 99 experienced tinnitus symptoms. They predicted that, by the year 2028, that figure would rise to around 7.7 million.
Those who suffer from a condition like tinnitus can experience extremely high levels of stress. Like everything else, stress levels depend entirely on the individual, but if you’re experiencing high levels of stress in other areas of your life, it’s highly probable that your tinnitus symptoms will cause you more trouble than someone else who enjoyed a more relaxed lifestyle. There are a few solutions if you feel that tinnitus is causing you stress, but we’ll start by describing the symptoms of stress itself –
- Nausea, ‘butterflies’ churning stomach
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath, yawning, sighing, or other changes in breathing
- Body and muscular tension
- Poor sleep
- Inability to focus and concentrate.
Recognising Stress in Your Behaviour
Do you feel apathetic or indifferent towards activities you typically enjoy, like exercising, reading, socialising, and so on? Are you trying to manage your stress by sleeping more, smoking, drinking, or using distractions like watching television, or spending long periods of time on social media, the Internet, or on your phone?
Understanding and Managing Tinnitus Stress
Is there any way we can understand the relationship between stress and tinnitus? Yes, there is. The first thing you need to do is be aware of your feelings, physical responses, and other behaviours throughout the day. It’s essential that you pay close attention to specific pieces of information, and while it’s not possible to pay close attention to everything that occurs during your day, the human brain is capable of choosing where we direct our attention at certain times, at the same time filtering out unnecessary information.
For example, take the ticking of a clock. While it’s repetitive, after a certain period of time has elapsed the noise becomes practically unnoticeable. This is known as ‘habituation’, which can be described as ‘a decrease in response to a stimulus after repeated presentations’. Let’s say you have a new ring-tone on your phone – initially this tone will attract your attention and it may even become distracting; however, as you become more used to the sound you’ll pay less attention to the noise and your response will be diminished.
The best way to manage your tinnitus stress is to be aware of your thoughts and follow these steps –
- Take notice of the times and specific situations when tinnitus causes you to become stressed
- Write down why you believe your thoughts or situations caused you stress. What were you experiencing?
- Evaluate your thoughts. Ask yourself this question: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” If you had a friend with the same problem, what would you say to them? What would that same close friend tell you?
This is a simple yet very effective activity; it will help you recognise stress and develop positive thinking. You’ll start to appreciate the changing messages about yourself, and the impact of tinnitus stress will be reduced.
Coping with Stress and Tinnitus Symptoms
Can wearing earplugs help with tinnitus? Earplugs can certainly help prevent tinnitus from worsening, and therefore reduce your stress, so we do advise that you protect yourself from further hearing loss if you are suffering from tinnitus. The problem is that certain earplugs make it very difficult to hear a conversation, enjoy music, or even be fully aware of your surroundings.
The answer to this problem is high-fidelity earplugs. High-fidelity earplugs are great because they don’t block or absorb sounds. Also known as ‘musicians’ earplugs, the filters in these earplugs reduce decibel levels without distorting them. Now you still have the ability to hold a conversation, enjoy your favourite music, and maintain awareness at a safer but lower volume.
Some recommended high-fidelity earplugs include –
- Custom-Made High-Fidelity Earplugs: This is where an audiologist will mould earplugs specifically to the shape of your ears. This may be a more expensive option when compared to one-size-fits-all earplugs, but it may deliver a higher level of relief.
- Reusable High-Fidelity Earplugs: This is an affordable, one-size-fits-all option. With reusable high-fidelity earplugs you’ll experience a noise reduction of somewhere between 15 and 22dB. At Zoom Health we have a selection of high-fidelity earplugs that can be used in a variety of different situations. Some great choices include: Mack’s Hear Plugs – High Fidelity Earplugs, Haspro Office Earplugs for Work and Alpine MusicSafe Pro Earplugs for Musicians.
You will probably receive a keychain carry-case with your high-fidelity earplugs, which makes it easy to keep them with you at all times. Simply pop them in when you start noticing loud noises, even if they’re not harmful.
The unfortunate truth about tinnitus is that it can, and often does, cause high levels of stress. The good news is that with healthy thought processing, by habituation, and wearing quality high-fidelity earplugs, you can still enjoy the good things in life, like your hobbies, music, and work.