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Tinnitus can be a highly aggravating condition for the sufferer, but a surprisingly small amount is known about it. For those who haven’t read up on it very much, the understanding might be that tinnitus means a “ringing in the ears”. While this isn’t entirely untrue, it tells only a small part of the story. For the full facts on this condition, read on…

So what is tinnitus?

If it’s not ringing in the ears, then what? Well, tinnitus can refer to a ringing in the ears, or equally it can be a hissing, clicking, whistling or even music. In short, it is a sound heard in the ears when no external noise is actually being made. Its name comes from a Latin term meaning “to ring or tinkle” – which may be why so many assume it means a ringing noise.

How common is tinnitus?

Approximately 50million American experience some form of tinnitus at some point. That’s about 15% of the population, or more than one in every seven. So you wouldn’t need to go too far to speak to someone who occasionally experiences it. There are 20million chronic cases, while 2million of those experiencing tinnitus have it in an extreme, debilitating way.

What causes tinnitus?

Primarily, tinnitus is a reaction to hearing loss. Essentially, where the brain would usually expect to be receiving noise signals from the ears, and isn’t getting them, it will sometimes create noise to fill in the gaps. 

Can you be tested for tinnitus?

Not really, no. It is a condition that relies on self-reporting, although you might report hearing sounds such as those listed above and then be tested for hearing loss. In truth, only you can report the noises you are hearing, as they are 100% internally generated and – other than some forms of pulsatile tinnitus – can only be heard by the patient.

What can I do to stop tinnitus?

As tinnitus is a response to hearing loss, the most reasonable way to stop it is to negate the hearing loss. This is commonly done with a hearing aid. Indeed, many device sold currently have dedicated anti-tinnitus settings, while other modern hearing device features include pairing with the user’s smartphone via Bluetooth or an app, and noise reduction functions that enable clearer hearing in crowded rooms and areas with a lot of background noise.

Are there specific risk factors for tinnitus?

As we’ve already noted, hearing loss can raise the likelihood of tinnitus, and the risk factor for hearing loss include working in a busy, noisy setting such as a music venue or a building site. People also report experiencing tinnitus as a symptom of Meniere’s disease, a condition related to vertigo, which also affects a patient’ balance. Tinnitus has also been linked to stress, depression and dementia, but in those cases it is believed more likely that the related hearing loss was more to blame for mental health and cognitive issues than vice versa.

What do I do if I have tinnitus?

To put it simply, make an appointment with a doctor or an audiologist. They will be the ones best able to trace the source of the condition, and advise on further action that could help you.

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