Tinnitus and Ringing in the Ear
Tinnitus can perhaps best be described as your perception of a sound that no one else can hear. Despite the fact that to you, the person "hearing" the extraordinarily loud ringing in the ears, tinnitus isn't actually caused by a sound at all. The American Tinnitus Association explains that as many as 50 million people in the United States experience tinnitus every year.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Unfortunately, because tinnitus isn't actually caused by sound, it's impossible to turn off the offending device. Tinnitus isn't a disorder as much as it is a symptom of another underlying medical or structural condition. This can include a simple inner ear infection or it can indicate the presence of a tumor. Many cases of tinnitus are caused by repeated exposure to loud noises, which is a frequent problem in people who work in industrial or construction settings. There is no actual cure for tinnitus but the condition can usually be managed effectively. Treating any underlying condition is the primary way to alleviate tinnitus however if damage to the delicate structures of your auditory canal occurs, it's considered permanent.
Tinnitus and Your Emotions
Tinnitus isn't simply emotionally draining because it involves persistent and annoying ringing, the condition appears to directly affect the portion of your brain that controls emotion. According to the American Tinnitus Association, imaging studies performed in the 1990's found that the emotional center of your brain reacts to the perception of ringing in the ears with feelings of being upset. Even if there's nothing to be upset about from an emotional standpoint, your body reacts just as it would to any stressor, secreting stress hormones. Over time, this chronic release of hormones can lead to other conditions such as exhaustion of your adrenal glands. When this occurs, your body becomes more vulnerable to illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses.
Treatment Options for Tinnitus
Treatment for tinnitus is directly determined by the underlying cause. If your tinnitus has a structural cause such as damage to a portion of your inner ear, surgical insertion of a cochlear implant may help mask tinnitus sounds or it may block the enervation of the nerve that is causing the perception of ringing. For most people living with tinnitus however, surgery isn't necessary and is reserved for individuals with significant inner ear damage and hearing loss.
Some individuals living with tinnitus report success with the administration of alternative therapies such as the use of vitamins, minerals or herbal supplements. Acupuncture, magnetic therapy, hypnosis, chiropractic manipulation and hyperbaric chamber therapies have also been used to treat tinnitus, with mixed results.
Because tinnitus has a profound effect on your emotional lability, the administration of cognitive therapy, antidepressant medications or a combination of both may help temper the psychological ramifications. Other types of prescription medications include those used to treat inner ear problems or TMJ, which is caused by chronic pressure on the nerves in and around your jaw and ear. Administration of sound through a device similar to a hearing aid helps some individuals with tinnitus to become distracted from the ringing.
The primary way to prevent tinnitus is to use preventative techniques that decrease the risk of damage to your ear and related structures. Avoiding loud noises and reducing the volume in personal music devices can decrease the risk of inner ear damage. When driving in your car, avoid listening to the radio or CD player at high volume. If you encounter a source of loud noise such as a jackhammer or lawn mower when walking, move to the opposite side of the street to decrease the damaging effects of the noise. If you're experiencing ringing in your ears, the initial step should always be to see your physician, ear, nose, throat specialist or audiologist for an evaluation to determine and treat the cause.
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Even if you're already living with tinnitus, taking steps to avoid potential causes of the condition can decrease the risk of additional damage.