Do you experience ringing or buzzing in the ear? You’re not alone: this irksome sensation—known as “tinnitus”—affects millions of Americans young and old. Luckily, you can manage and treat tinnitus over time. Understand the facts to help you effectively cope with (or prevent) this frustrating issue.
Is tinnitus a disease or a symptom?
Myth: Tinnitus is a disease.
Fact: Tinnitus isn’t a disease or disorder—it’s a symptom of an underlying health problem.
Tinnitus is the perception of a sound with no external source. Several health conditions can cause tinnitus, but it’s usually a sign that something is going on in your auditory system.
Most tinnitus (and hearing loss) results from damage to the inner ear—whether caused by loud noise exposure, an untreated middle ear infection or ototoxic medications, such as aspirin and ibuprofen.
When sound enters our ear, nerve cells in the inner ear send electrical signals to the brain; the brain then interprets those signals as sound. When those delicate inner-ear nerve cells become damaged, they can “leak” random electrical signals to the brain—causing the brain to hear sounds with no external source.
Tinnitus can also affect those without permanent hearing loss. Symptoms may occur as a result of a sinus infection, earwax buildup, head or neck injury or jaw disorder.
Did you know? Most tinnitus is subjective (heard only by the person who has it), but—in rare cases—can be objective (heard by others).
Myth: Tinnitus always manifests as constant ringing in ears.
Fact: People with tinnitus hear different sounds.
Tinnitus is most commonly associated with a ringing sound, but it’s actually the perception of any sound that is not present. Buzzing, whooshing, clicking, hissing and whistling sounds also indicate tinnitus. In some cases, people even hear music—though this sensation is quite rare.
Did you know? If your tinnitus sounds like a heartbeat, it could be a sign of something more serious than hearing loss, such as a tumor or abnormal capillaries. Be sure to have your doctor examine it.
Myth: Tinnitus is always chronic and permanent.
Fact: Tinnitus can be chronic or temporary.
Tinnitus isn’t always a long-term symptom. People often experience temporary tinnitus as the result of a one-time exposure to loud noise. After attending a loud concert, for example, you may hear high-pitched ringing that goes away within a few hours.
If earwax buildup or a sinus infection is the culprit, the tinnitus usually stops after removing the blockage or recovering from the infection.
Permanent conditions, such as age-related hearing loss, are more likely to cause chronic tinnitus.
Did you know? Noise-induced hearing loss is the only type of hearing loss that is completely preventable. To protect your hearing from damaging decibel levels during loud concerts, ear-splitting action films and other noisy events, remember to wear proper ear protection.
Myth: There’s nothing I can do about tinnitus—I just have to live with it.
Fact: While there’s no proven cure, tinnitus is treatable.
Although no method has been scientifically proven to cure tinnitus, several treatment options are effective at masking, distracting from and teaching the brain to ignore the sound.
Hearing aids are a highly effective treatment method for people who have tinnitus and hearing loss. Many are built to provide tinnitus relief through sound therapy and other programs. Most Miracle-Ear hearing aids offer:
Other treatment options include sound-masking devices and noise machines. Some music streaming services offer playlists for tinnitus relief, and certain sound apps are designed to help you get a good night’s sleep. Additionally, meditation and behavioral therapy often prove to be powerful techniques for reducing the stress and emotional effects of tinnitus.
Did you know? Some companies market products that claim to provide a quick fix for tinnitus. While certain drugs may help relieve the emotional and behavioral side effects of tinnitus, no magical “tinnitus medications” will make it disappear. Always consult a hearing care professional before attempting any treatment method.
Myth: Certain foods can make tinnitus go away.
Fact: No food has been scientifically proven to treat tinnitus, but a healthy diet can help limit its intensity and side effects.
There’s no official “tinnitus diet” guaranteed to reduce its effects. Some people find that eating certain foods makes them feel better, while others may find those same foods make them feel worse. However, sticking to a healthy diet can benefit your overall wellbeing—and in turn, positively impact your tinnitus.
A healthy diet can increase blood flow, reduce hypertension and improve energy levels, all of which may limit the perceived intensity of tinnitus.
Did you know? Some vitamins and minerals are particularly beneficial to hearing health! Look for foods rich in magnesium, potassium, zinc, folate (folic acid) and vitamins A, C and D.
Myth: Tinnitus will prevent me from leading a normal life.
Fact: Tinnitus doesn’t have to stop you from living life to the fullest.
Tinnitus is more common than you think! The CDC estimates that more than 15% of the general public experience some form of tinnitus. That’s more than 50 million Americans. If you’re one of them, don’t lose hope: Most people adjust to the sound over time and are able to lead normal lives, continuing to participate in all the activities they enjoy.
With a healthy lifestyle and the right treatment, you can learn to control your tinnitus, so it doesn’t control you.
Did you know? Your tinnitus will seem worse if your hearing loss increases or goes untreated. As you lose the ability to hear outside sounds, those sounds will no longer cover up the sound of tinnitus—making it far more noticeable. Hearing aids help to amplify only those outside sounds, effectively reducing your perception of tinnitus.
If you think you're experiencing tinnitus, take your first step to better hearing by downloading our free tinnitus guide.