Can you hear that buzzing sound? You know. After a gruelling day at work, you get into bed for some well deserved rest. You lay your head on the pillow, get into a comfortable position and let your mind wander into the void. But for some reason you can’t fall asleep. What is that buzzing sound you think. Sounds like the wings of an insect or the chime of bells rattling the inside your skull. It starts of softly but grows louder with every passing minute. All night you toss and turn but the hum and buzz in your ears keeps sleep at bay. The clock strikes 3 am and time is running out. The next day dawns yet you remain as exhausted as the night prior. The only constant is that incessant noise in your ears.
That constant ringing sound you hear, otherwise known as tinnitus, has plagued humanity as far back as we can remember. One of our earliest records showed that Ancient Egyptians believed a combination of exotic spices and oils would cure the affected ear. Likewise, the Mesopotamians, Indians and Chinese had their own remedies to treat the ringing sensation although the efficacy remains debatable to this day. During the 1st century AD, Pliny the Elder coined the term tinnitus which we now recognize as a condition where an individual perceives sound in the absence of an external sound source. It is a phantom sound that only you can hear, often with no tangible, quantifiable progenitor.
The most common sound reported by individuals with tinnitus is that of a ringing tone. Yet others claim it sounds like a tea kettle boiling or the whooshing waves of a turbulent flow of water. Regardless of the sound you hear, tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying issue. For instance, tinnitus often accompanies hearing loss. In older adults, tinnitus is frequently their first indication of hearing loss. Aside from that, tinnitus may also arise as the product of damage to blood vessels, hormonal changes and ear infections.
It is estimated that anywhere from 10 to 15% of the population experience tinnitus. And a vast majority of people will report to have experienced tinnitus at least once in their lifetime. Normally, it is nothing to worry about if it goes away within 5 minutes. But if you notice your tinnitus lasts longer than 5 minutes and persists for over a week, it is highly advisable to meet with a doctor ASAP. Even if the tinnitus is bearable, do not hesitate to consult a physician as it may be a sign of another health problem. This is especially true if your tinnitus only happens in one ear or is accompanied by dizziness, vertigo, nausea and a sudden drop in hearing.
EFFECTS OF TINNITUS
Difficulty concentrating, disruption to sleep and negative emotions are among the most cited impacts of tinnitus in daily life. Some people may have more difficulty than others when it comes to ignoring their tinnitus. For them, the constant ringing becomes a distraction which affects their performance in tasks that require sustained concentration such as reading, driving or studying. The earlier anecdote is a perfect example of how tinnitus can disturb your normal sleeping patterns and cause sleep deprivation. In some very rare cases, tinnitus has even been shown to seriously reduce the quality of life, resulting in depression, social-isolation and even suicidal ideation! Written by patrick seow wi liam
There is currently no medicine available to stop your tinnitus. Some medications like antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs can only manage the behavioral issues related to tinnitus such as stress and depression. It is of the utmost importance to be aware that, as of the time of this writing, there is no cure for tinnitus. That being said, many people still fall prey to the scams organized by snake oil salesman on the internet who claim their tinctures will cure everything from hair loss to cancer. None of these so-called ‘miracle drugs’ have been proven to be effective in clinical trials. Whilst there is no cure for tinnitus, it can be managed as there are some treatments available. Meeting an audiologist, who specializes in tinnitus, is a great first step. They can conduct counselling and therapy sessions which will help you learn about tinnitus and the strategies to make it more bearable. They may also prescribe hearing aids or sound generators to mask the tinnitus which may offer some relief.
WHAT CAN I DO?
1. Locate an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor. These specialists will carry out tests to determine if your tinnitus is due to a more serious underlying medical condition and, if necessary, offer surgical or medical care to address those issues. They may also refer you to an audiologist.
2. Meet with an audiologist. These health care professionals will carry out hearing tests to find out if your tinnitus is a sign of hearing loss and determine if you need additional interventions such as therapy or hearing devices to treat your tinnitus.
3. Take care of your hearing. Avoid activities that may worsen your hearing through excessive noise exposure as it may lead to inner ear damage which is a common cause of tinnitus. Read our article here on proper hearing care and how to avoid noise-induced hearing loss.
Tinnitus is a phantom sound with very real effects. Don’t let it stress you out for much longer. Seek professional help and get your life back on track.
Patrick Seow, Clinical Audiologist at 20dB Hearing