Tinnitus is “ringing, buzzing or other head noise (in the ears) perceived by the patient,” Dr. Samantha Bayless told about 10 attendees at her "Managing Tinnitus" presentation Sept. 25 at Southeastern Indiana YMCA.
It can be a roaring sound. “Some people say it sounds like crickets. Tinnitus is not a disease, it's a symptom of something else. There is no true cure for it. There's no pill we can give you, no magic fix, ... but there are a lot of things we can do to manage it.”
Bayless, who is board certified in audiology and is a tinnitus management certificate holder, reported, “Sometimes people have it every day. For some people it's all day, every day.” It doesn't annoy some people,"but for others it’s very bothersome.”
“Tinnitus can really affect your life,” she continued. Persons may feel fearful, isolated, frustrated and/or depressed.
The sound could keep you from enjoying music or a walk in the park. Some “just hear ringing constantly. It can affect your work and social life.”
Most commonly, the sounds can only be heard by the affected person. In rare disorders, the sounds can be heard by the examiner.
What causes tinnitus? Usually hearing loss or damage to the auditory system, according to Bayless, who works in Montgomery and Cincinnati, Ohio.
In other cases, tinnitus is caused by something else, perhaps impacted wax in the ears; a middle ear infection; cochlear abnormalities, such as Meniere's disease; TMJ (temporomandibular disorder); or an auditory nerve tumor.
She explained that when sound hits an eardrum, it moves bones, which hit fluid. “When the fluid moves, we hear sound.” The message is transferred to the brain. “When there's been some sort of trauma to the ear or some change, it changes how that sound is coming in. When there's damage, the signal gets a little sporadic when it's going to the brain.” So the noise a person hears is coming from the brain, not ear.
When a patient presents with tinnitus, “we look at how long you've had it, the impact and how often it happens.”
To experience occasional ringing in the ears for a minute or less is completely normal. Temporary tinnitus can occur after noise exposure. Occasional tinnitus happens every few weeks or months. Others notice it regularly or constantly.
If a person has had the problem for less than six months, there's a good chance of it going away on its own, the audiologist noted.
About one in 10 adult Americans has the problem. The prevalence increases with age. The common age group when it begins is 60-69.
For 10-15%, it’s chronic and they are truly bothered. Tinnitus is a big or very big problem for 7.2% and a moderate problem for 20.2%.
For the rest, it’s a small problem or they don’t notice ringing at all.
About 20% seek some sort of medical intervention. A primary physician typically will refer the patient to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat physician).
About 90 percent of chronic tinnitus sufferers also have hearing loss. Noise exposure is a major factor associated with both hearing loss and tinnitus.
Tinnitus is the No. 1 service-connected issue for veterans as they age, with over 1.5 million diagnosed in 2016. Other occupations that see many with the problem: industrial workers, motor vehicle manufacturers, firefighters, first responders, police officers and musicians.
Bayless pointed out persons with “any sort of traumatic brain injury have an increased risk for tinnitus.” A cardiovascular issue is another risk factor.
Medicines can cause tinnitus. Taking aspirin, ibuprofen, loop diuretics and quinine derivatives can lead to temporary tinnitus, while having chemotherapy or taking antibiotics or some antidepressants can cause a permanent problem.
What can be done about tinnitus? The audiologist said, “Our goal is something we call habituation. We can't make the sound go away completely ... but we can put the sound in the back of your mind. We use education and counseling” to present ways of coping with it. Sound therapy can help as well.
If there is hearing loss and hearing aids are purchased, if hearing does improve, tinnitus may diminish. A TV, fan or sound machine also can help.
“Relaxation is huge,” she advised. “If you have this ringing and you're stressing about it, the ringing gets worse ... it's an ugly cycle.” Bayless recommended breathing exercises, yoga, exercising, meditation and reading.
"Get plenty of sleep, exercise and eat right," suggested Dr. Mike Hill, Bayless’ colleague who operates three Hill Hear Better Clinics, including one at the Margaret Mary Health outpatient center, Batesville.
Bayless ended the program on a positive note: “There is no cure, but there is so much we can do. Every single patient is different. We will … find what works for you.”
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-717-3113.