Midwesterners bothered by a persistent ringing in their ears are all too familiar with tinnitus. This widespread condition affects about 50 million people across the United States; for some, it is nothing more than a minor nuisance, but for others, it’s a major impediment to their quality of life. Fortunately, you don’t have to suffer in silence (though silence is golden and would be welcome for most who experience tinnitus); there are steps you can take to relieve your symptoms.
Tinnitus is a Symptom, not a Disease
Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat: tinnitus is a symptom and not a disease. It’s actually a side effect of an underlying condition. Many disorders can cause tinnitus, such as:
- Hearing loss
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorder
- Head/neck trauma
- Ototoxic medications
- Benign tumors
No two cases of tinnitus are the same. While most people describe it as a ringing in the ears, others report a roaring, hissing, whooshing, buzzing, clicking, or other noise. Some individuals experience it only sporadically, but for others, it’s a constant, ongoing distraction that interferes with every aspect of their daily lives.
There are two types of tinnitus: pulsatile and non-pulsatile. People with pulsatile tinnitus report a rhythmic pattern that matches their own pulse. This type is the result of abnormal blood flow and is very rare. Most patients experience non-pulsatile tinnitus; the ringing (or other sound) is not accompanied by any discernible pattern or rhythm.
Tinnitus is also classified as objective (another person, usually the patient’s doctor, can hear the noise) or subjective (only the patient hears the noise). Most cases of tinnitus are subjective.
First off, the bad news: people suffering from tinnitus in Iowa, Minnesota, or South Dakota are going to have to learn to live with the ringing in their ears, as the search for a tinnitus cure has so far proven elusive. But there are coping strategies that can help you manage your symptoms and find some relief.
Many people find success with masking techniques. This strategy utilizes an external sound source to disguise or suppress the tinnitus, making it less noticeable and easier to tolerate. White noise machines are popular, though you can achieve the same effect (and save a few dollars) by turning on a fan, air conditioner, or humidifier.
Tinnitus retraining devices are similar, but use patterned musical tones rather than ambient background noise.
Others swear by over-the-counter remedies such as gingko biloba, zinc, and niacin, although there is little evidence to support these claims. Anti-anxiety medications might help, as well as meditation and other relaxation exercises.
If you are experiencing tinnitus, your audiologist can offer counseling and other tips to help you deal with the ringing in your ears.