I have always been the girl to play music on my headphones at maximum volume, crank it up in my car, and oh, yeah, stand side stage at over 160 Fleetwood Mac shows and counting, but now here I am in Europe, learning about the wonderful world of tinnitus.
Tinnitus is noise you hear in your head or ears that does not come from an outside source. It can be a humming, ringing, buzz, hiss, whistle, whirr, ring, shriek or buzz, and can even change pitch and tone over time. For some, it comes and goes, while for others it’s steady and constant. Tinnitus affects one in every five people in the United States. While the source of the sound appears to be in the inner ear, or even in the brain, the cause is a mystery! (Personally, I only hear a ringing in my left ear).
Most people have experienced a “ringing in the ears” after fighting their way to the front of a concert or sitting too close to a fireworks show, but it is not considered chronic unless it lasts longer than six months. It is most commonly found in elderly populations or those with hearing loss. Many people fear it is a sign they are going deaf, or of another medical condition, but it rarely is.
Most tinnitus is only sensed by the person experiencing the sound, but some forms can be heard, just like your heartbeat. Tinnitus that can be heard on a stethoscope is called pulsatile tinnitus, and is more common in edlerly persons as arteries stiffen with age and blood flow becomes turbulent. Pulsatile tinnitus is usually more noticeable at night when external stimuli have diminished and no longer mask the sounds. Pulsatile tinnitus can be a sign of blood damage, or possibly even a tumor, so consult your physician if you have new symptoms.
The most common causes of tinnitus are injury or illness of the ear, such as a sudden loud noise, or age-related damage. These can damage the cells of the cochlea, resulting in a diminished ability to hear certain frequencies. Audiologists believe the brain then tries to “make up” for these lost sounds, by creating ones that aren’t there. Additionally, damage or inflammation of the eardrum or auditory nerve caused by meningitis or a tumor can cause the brain to interpret sounds that aren’t there. Be sure to wear hearing protection if you are in loud environments at work, or even at concerts. I have started trying to remember earplugs and even noise cancelling headphones to Fleetwood Mac shows!
There are two main types of symptoms for tinnitus: compensated and decompensated. Compensated tinnitus is described as unobtrusive, and most people are unaware of symptoms during day to day life. People with decompensated tinnitus are constantly aware of it, which can lead to psychological symptoms such as insomnia, stress, anxiety, depression and even social isolation, or cause headaches, earaches, or dizziness. If you believe you are experiencing tinnitus, you should see your GP and explain your symptoms.
Tinnitus is considered either acute (<3 months), subacute (3-12 months) or chronic (>12 months). Acute and subacute tinnitus will often go away on their own, but recovery can be helped through relaxation techniques and certain medications.The course of chronic tinnitus is unpredictable. Sometimes the symptoms remain the same, and sometimes they get worse. In about 10% of cases, the condition interferes with everyday life so much that professional help is needed.
While there is no cure for chronic tinnitus, it often becomes less noticeable and more manageable over time. You can help ease the symptoms by educating yourself about the condition — for example, understanding that it’s not dangerous. There are also several ways to help tune out the noise and minimize its impact. White noise devices in quiet environments can help the brain focus on a sound other than the tinnitus, and cognitive behavioral therapy can help to manage psychological responses to tinnitus. As with many of our modern chronic conditions, reducing stress, exercising, and eating clean can reduce symptoms of tinnitus. So wear your hearing protection, turn down the volume on your headphones, hit the gym and make some of my eat clean recipes to help reduce your chances of getting, and symptoms of, tinnitus! Avoiding foods or habits that raise your blood pressure, affecting blood flow to your ears and activating tinnitus is also a great idea. Processed foods high in sodium, alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, and caffeine all fall into this category!