Tinnitus is something that affects most people at some point in their lifetimes – young or old. This is because tinnitus isn't a condition but rather a symptom of something else, whether that is excessive noise exposure, age-related hearing loss or an underlying circulatory issue. At any one time, tinnitus affects one in five people.
While it can be unsettling, annoying or uncomfortable, it doesn't usually suggest something seriously wrong. However, if you experience tinnitus, it's still important to get it checked out by your general practitioner, an audiologist or another hearing health care expert in case it is the rare chance that it is something serious. Additionally, experts can help you find ways to soothe or reduce your tinnitus symptoms.
Here are some common myths about tinnitus:
Tinnitus gets progressively worse.
In fact, this is very uncommon. Tinnitus can change in severity from day to day, but much of this is objective and can be affected by how you feel or what you're doing each day. But in most instances, tinnitus symptoms improve over time. It's important to get your ears checked because tinnitus can be caused by something with a simple solution, like an earwax blockage, which can be easily removed by an audiologist or other hearing health care professional.
It can cause hearing loss or deafness.
Tinnitus is a symptom of another condition and while it can accompany hearing loss – especially age-related and noise-induced hearing loss – it is not the cause. However, tinnitus can cause you to have difficulty sleeping, trouble focusing at work, feelings of anxiety or depression or stress. Many times, it is difficult to determine whether one's emotional state is caused by tinnitus or whether the anxiety, stress and depression led to tinnitus in some way. But there is certainly a correlation.
If you don't hear a ringing sound, it's not tinnitus.
In fact, tinnitus manifests in various ways. As it's subjective, what is heard depends on the person. Also, some people may describe similar things in different ways. Tinnitus symptoms are variably described as ringing, whooshing, buzzing, whistling, rumbling or a variety of other ways.
There's nothing you can do to relieve tinnitus – you have to live with it.
While there is no "cure," per say, for tinnitus, it's definitely not a symptom you have to just live with. When you visit your audiologist or other hearing health expert to get the cause of your tinnitus checked, he or she can determine whether your symptoms are mild, moderate or severe. If the doctor finds an underlying health condition as the cause, such as a blood vessel issue or earwax buildup, he or she can treat or refer you for treatment. If it's determined that your medication is at fault, he or she can change your medication or consult with your primary care physician or specialist about your medication.
There are also many types of treatments for the symptom of tinnitus, including:
- Tinnitus maskers, which are similar to hearing aids but usually generate soft, pleasant sounds to cover up your tinnitus. Some hearing aids have a built-in tinnitus masker as well.
- Noise machines, which sit on a table and generate sound like waves, rain, waterfalls or white noise. Many people with tinnitus use these on their nightstands to help them fall asleep.
- Counseling, which can teach people how to cope with their tinnitus and find ways to reduce their stress. This could also include meditating.
- There are other ways to help, depending on what is causing your tinnitus. If you have high blood pressure that is contributing to tinnitus symptoms, you can lower it by decreasing your salt intake and eliminating nerve stimulants like soda, coffee, tobacco and aspirin.