“Feed a cold, starve a fever.”
“Eating chocolate gives you zits.”
“Don’t raise your arms over your head if you are pregnant.”
“Forgetting your jacket on a cold day will cause pneumonia.”
When it comes to our health, there’s good information and then there’s the bad. Good information usually comes to us as facts and advice from our doctors, verified medical guides and credible websites. But the bad info is just as plentiful and often very difficult to spot. Old wives’ tales, well-meaning friends and family members, and not-so-well-meaning websites pass on dubious or even out-right false information that makes it difficult for patients to get the treatment they need.
That can be especially true for poorly understood conditions like tinnitus.
Tinnitus is sound in your head that doesn’t have an external source. Tinnitus isn’t a disease in itself, rather a symptom or a signal to you and your doctor that something else is going on in your body. Tinnitus can be brought on by a number of factors. Because the cause is difficult to pinpoint, can be very difficult to treat.
If you or a loved one has been recently diagnosed, read on to learn five facts about tinnitus that can help you better understand and manage the condition.
1. There Are Two Main Kinds of Tinnitus
To find effective treatment options, it’s important for you and your doctor to know what kind of tinnitus you are experiencing: subjective or objective.
- Subjective Tinnitus: this type of tinnitus can only be heard by the patient. Subjective tinnitus is the most common form, accounting for 95 percent of tinnitus cases. Subjective tinnitus can be a symptom of many health conditions, including almost every known ear disorder. Subjective tinnitus is also found in over 80 percent of hearing loss patients.
- Objective Tinnitus: this type of tinnitus is sound that can be heard by both you and your doctor. Your doctor detects the sound by listening to your ear with a stethoscope. Objective tinnitus is much less common than subjective tinnitus, but it often has a cause that your doctor can identify and even cure. Objective tinnitus is often vascular in nature, or related to your arteries, veins and blood flow. It can also be associated with abnormalities or disruptions in your Eustachian tube and with muscle contractions inside your ear.
2. No Two Tinnitus Cases Are the Same
The symptoms of your tinnitus can be as unique and individual as you. It’s most often described as a ringing in the ears, but patients can experience it as buzzing, humming, roaring, whooshing, screeching, clicking or even as the sound of their own heartbeat. The noise can be loud or soft, high or low, occasional or constant, a mild annoyance or a severe and debilitating chronic condition.
The causes of tinnitus can vary widely. Tinnitus can be brought on by many things, including damage to the ears from loud noises, head and neck injuries, medication side effects, stress or as a symptom of other health conditions.
Tinnitus is subjective. That means two patients can experience tinnitus in completely different ways, even if the perceived volume and pitch levels are the same (both can be determined by tests run by audiologists). That means the severity of tinnitus isn’t determined by the strength of the symptoms, but by how strongly you react to the condition.
3. Some People Are at Greater Risk for Developing Tinnitus
Tinnitus doesn’t discriminate. It can strike any age, any sex, any nationality. That said, there are specific populations who can count more tinnitus sufferers among their ranks, including:
- Men: men get tinnitus more often than women. This may be because a greater percentage of men do jobs in loud environments and participate in loud activities. Of course, women who work in loud jobs or enjoy loud activities are at an equally high risk.
- Older people: tinnitus often accompanies hearing loss which is a common side effect of aging.
- Caucasians: white, non-Hispanics report more incidents of tinnitus than other racial and ethnic groups. The reasons why is unclear.
- Military personnel and veterans: exposure to gunfire, explosions and loud machinery puts active military personnel at very high risk for developing tinnitus. In fact, tinnitus is the leading service-related disability among U.S. veterans
- Musicians and music lovers: professional musicians spend their lives around amplified music, putting them in particular danger of developing tinnitus. Music enthusiasts also risk developing noise-induced tinnitus from attending loud concerts and listening to music with the volume turned up too high.
- People with mental health concerns: patients with a history of depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder can be more prone to suffering from tinnitus. While these mental health issues do not cause tinnitus, they may interfere with a patient’s ability to cope with the sound, making the condition worse.
4. Tinnitus Is More Common Than You Think
According to a survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 50 million Americans report that they have experience tinnitus symptoms. Nearly 20 million people say they deal with burdensome tinnitus on a regular basis, and 2 million of those people struggle with severe, debilitating symptoms.
Tinnitus is so prevalent for two reasons. First, it has multiple causes. Second, just like there is no single cause, there is no single cure. Those who stick with the search to find the treatment techniques that work for them often end up vastly improving their quality of life. But many sufferers don’t seek help or give up trying to find relief, resigning themselves to a life with tinnitus.
5. There Is No Cure for Tinnitus
Unfortunately, there is no pill you can take to make tinnitus go away. But patients can take an active role in managing their condition. This can help patients feel more in control of their tinnitus and even lead to a lessening of symptoms or even remission.
- Start with your personal doctor: they can rule out treatable medical conditions or prescription drug interactions as the culprit. They can also refer you to specialists for additional testing, treatment and advice.
- Improve your physical health: eating a diet rich in vitamins and minerals, making time for regular exercise and getting at least eight hours of sleep a night can all greatly improve symptoms of tinnitus.
- Concentrate on your mental health: stress can kick-start tinnitus and exacerbate your condition. Your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication or recommend cognitive behavioral therapy. You can work on your mental health at home by exercising, getting enough sleep and incorporating yoga or meditation into your daily routine.
- Use sound generators to distract you: these could include fans, radios or white noise machines. You can also purchase a wearable sound generator or a hearing aid that generates sound specifically to counteract tinnitus symptoms.
- Consider alternative therapies: some tinnitus patients find relief from herbal supplements like garlic and ginkgo biloba, acupuncture and chiropractic care. As always, ask your doctor before pursuing alternative treatment options.