Learn what to do about tinnitus, a phantom sound that only exists inside your head.
The first thing you need to know about tinnitus, that ringing in your ears, is that it is not a disease—it is only a symptom. The next thing you need to know is that even though it’s a very common symptom, in many ways it remains a medical mystery.
A recent review of the causes, symptoms and treatments of tinnitus in the Journal of Clinical Neurology states that in about 40 percent of cases no cause can be found, and that of all the medications used for tinnitus, only a tranquilizer works better than a sugar pill (a placebo).
"Tinnitus represents one of the most common and distressing otologic problems, and it causes various somatic and psychological disorders that interfere with the quality of life." Journal of Clinical Neurology
Tinnitus is usually described as ringing in the ears, but it may also be described as cicadas, crickets, wind, escaping steam, or even grinding steel. For about three out of four people with tinnitus, the sounds in their ears become something they learn to live with, but for others tinnitus is a source of anxiety, insomnia and disability.
When it comes to seniors and hearing, we don’t exactly know how tinnitus occurs. Theories include nerve cell damage in the inner ear and changes in brain pathways. We do know some of the common causes:
If your tinnitus is caused by a medication or a medical condition, you might be able to be relieved of that ringing in your ears. However, for the other causes of tinnitus there is no cure.
But that doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about it. Here are some treatments that may help:
There are some other things you can do to help yourself if you have tinnitus:
If you are a caregiver for someone who suddenly develops tinnitus, or if their tinnitus suddenly gets worse, you need to get them to the doctor. It could be something as simple as a wax buildup or it could be a sign of a treatable medical condition like high blood pressure. In rare cases, tinnitus can be caused by a tumor growing on the main hearing nerve. If symptoms like fluctuating hearing loss, sudden change in hearing, dizziness or unsteadiness accompany tinnitus, it is more likely that the tinnitus is being caused by a treatable medical condition.