Tinnitus is the perception of a sound that isn’t there. This sound is usually a ringing noise, but it can be a whoosh, hum, or buzz. For some people, tinnitus is pulsing and they should feel their pulse to see if it matches the beating of their heart.
Pulsatile tinnitus in one ear deserves a discussion with a doctor and often doesn’t fall into the same group of diagnoses as constant tinnitus that is in both ears.
Depending on the study, up to two-thirds of people experience tinnitus at some point during their life. Most tinnitus patients only hear it at night because the noise and busyness of the daytime create a constant distraction from the noise in their head.
Tinnitus can be associated with well more than 100 other diagnoses. It is important to note that almost all of the associated diseases present with other symptoms that quickly point to the cause — such as tinnitus associated with whiplash or other neck injury or tinnitus associated with jaw joint inflammation secondary to grinding your teeth (often in your sleep). Many people have tinnitus after experiencing really loud noises (gunshots, concerts, headphones on too loudly).
Tinnitus with no other symptoms or preceding events can be harder to find the cause of, and sometimes there is not a cause found. Tinnitus alone should not be mistaken as a sign of deadly disease. Many people worry it could be a brain tumor, this is so extremely unlikely that tinnitus alone is not a reason to get an MRI or CT scan.
Everyone with tinnitus deserves a hearing test as the No. 1 cause for anyone over 60 is hearing loss. We tend to lose the highest frequencies first so even people who hear conversation just fine can have considerable high-frequency hearing loss.
Tinnitus can be background noise and in people with hearing loss, they can’t hear the outside world as well, so they hear the “noise” inside their brain more clearly. Some people who have had their whole inner ear removed or destroyed still say they hear tinnitus on that side. Tinnitus is more like phantom limb pain (the feeling of pain in a hand even though the person no longer has that hand or arm) than an actual nerve being stimulated at its endpoint.
That said, some people with hearing loss and tinnitus discover their tinnitus is no longer there while they are using hearing aids. The sounds of the outside world mask the sound inside their head. Masking is an important part of tinnitus therapy; just having the radio on for background music can often distract the brain from tinnitus. Some tinnitus sufferers sleep with music on or a fan running to have white noise to mask the tinnitus when the rest of the world is quiet.
Stress a factor
Psychological problems also coincide with tinnitus. Stress is a major contributor to tinnitus. Depression and anxiety have been found to precede tinnitus and sometimes tinnitus can be a cause for depression. Treating depression or anxiety has been found to help the depression, but not necessarily the tinnitus.
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