Do you hear a ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, or hissing sound in your ears? Do you hear this sound often or all the time? Do you feel the sound negatively affects your quality of life? If you answer yes to these questions, you may have tinnitus (tin-NY-tus).
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a conscious awareness of a sound in the ears or head that is not caused by an external noise. While it is a symptom associated with many forms of hearing loss, it can also be a symptom of other health problems. Over half of people with tinnitus do not have measurable hearing loss. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree. Of these, about 16 million have severe enough tinnitus to seek medical attention, and about two million people are so seriously debilitated that they are unable to function on a “normal”, day-to-day basis. This means there are – at a minimum - tens of thousands of people living with this condition in or around the Denver Metro area.
Every person living with tinnitus has their own tinnitus tone. The sound can manifest itself in a low or high frequency, and its loudness and pitch can change over time. Some cases are so severe that it interferes with their daily activities. People with severe cases of tinnitus may find it difficult to hear, work, or even sleep.
What causes tinnitus?
Wax build-up : Too much wax in the ear canal may diminish your ability to hear. This may cause the auditory system to overcompensate and create stimulation (noises) that does not exist – tinnitus.
Stress : Physical and/or emotional stress can act as a catalyst for the onset or worsening of tinnitus.
Loud noise : Exposure to loud noise can cause damage and even destroy hair cells, called cilia, in the inner ear. Once damaged, these hair cells cannot be renewed or replaced and may result in permanent hearing loss and/or tinnitus. Continued exposure can make the tinnitus and hearing loss worse.
Certain disorders : Disorders such as hypo- or hyperthyroidism, Meniere’s disease, Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and thoracic outlet syndrome, can have tinnitus as a symptom.
Hearing loss : Many people who have tinnitus also have some kind of hearing loss.
Ototoxicity : Some medications are ototoxic, which means they are harmful or damaging to the ear. Other medications will produce tinnitus as a side effect without damaging the inner ear. Effects, which can depend on the dosage of the medication, can be temporary or permanent. Before taking any medication, make sure that your prescribing physician is aware of your tinnitus, and discuss alternative medications that may be available.
Other causes : Allergies, tumors, problems in the heart and blood vessels, jaw misalignment, and head or neck trauma can cause tinnitus.
Why does tinnitus stop for some people and not others?
For people living with tinnitus, one or more of the causes above have led to an auditory malfunction. The brain attempts to compensate which begins the tinnitus cycle.
The auditory cortex is the part of the brain responsible for hearing. The nerve cells and neural circuits in a specific area of the auditory cortex are “tuned” to a specific pitch, similar to the way keys on a piano are arranged.
Regardless of the cause of the tinnitus ( noise, medication, stress, etc.), it all leads to an interruption in the transmission of sound from the ear to the brain. This means that some of the neural circuits no longer receive signals. Like a piano, some of the keys no longer work and cannot be played by the pianist.
However, these neural circuits do not react to the lack of stimulus by remaining quiet. Instead, the nerve cells begin to chatter together on their own and become synchronous with each other.
Once the nerve cells have become hyperactive and synchronous in this way, they simulate a tone that the brain “hears” as tinnitus. Again, like a piano, the broken keys have created their own permanent tone even without the keys being played by the pianist.
Over time, this pattern strengthens and the tinnitus becomes permanent. Unfortunately, the brain has learned the phantom sound we call tinnitus.
The tinnitus treatment at Sound Relief Hearing Center in Denver, Colorado is aimed at unlearning the tinnitus tone and rewiring these altered neural circuits.
What should I do if I have tinnitus?
The first step is to schedule a consultation with one of our specialists. A careful history and audiometric testing will lead to the most likely causes and best treatment for your tinnitus. If medically necessary, we may refer you to another physician to complete the diagnosis.
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