“Were Your Ears Ringing?”

Most people have heard the expression that someone talking about you makes your ears ring, but Tinnitus is very real, and can be life-altering.

Tinnitus is most often described as a high-pitched ringing in the ear, which typically goes hand-in-hand with hearing loss. As the ear loses sensitivity to sound and sends less information to the brain, the common conception is that the brain attempts to fill in the missing sounds, which lead to the phantom sounds: tinnitus.

If you don’t suffer from tinnitus yourself, or know anyone with tinnitus, the following sound clips were created by people to try to mimic the sounds that they suffer with day in and day out.

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In a survey of 5,000 tinnitus sufferers, respondents described the noises they hear as whooshing, humming, whining, buzzing, hissing, strumming, tinging, whistling, clicking, ticking, roaring, cicada sound, sizzling, beeping, singing, music and yes, voices.

One third of North Americans over fifty-five experience tinnitus. In fact, tinnitus affects one third of adults at some time in their lives; ten to fifteen percent of those are disturbed enough to seek medical attention.

Tinnitus affects about twelve percent of men and fourteen percent of women over sixty-five. It is among the most common afflictions among the elderly. It only rarely afflicts the young, with one significant exception: those serving in the armed forces and others who have developed hearing problems as a result of exposure to extremely loud noises.

Aside from noise-induced hearing loss and sound trauma, tinnitus also commonly occurs with ear infections, ear wax, stress, anxiety, depression, heart disease, Meniere’s Disease, previous head injuries and musculoskeletal issues in the head and neck.

Tinnitus scan

MRI scans of the brains of tinnitus sufferers reveal that the brains of tinnitus sufferers look different than the brains of everyone else. For instance, it’s now known that tinnitus sufferers tend to have markedly smaller subcallosal areas in the brain.  That’s one of the brain areas involved in your limbic system, the emotional fight-or-flight part of your brain. Researchers believe the activity in the subcallosal area of the brain may help to suppress tinnitus, and that compromised limbic regions may lead to chronic tinnitus.

Insomnia appears to go hand in hand with tinnitus. Researchers at the Henry Ford Hospital tested 177 patients between 2009 and 2011 and found that the more severe the tinnitus, the more sleepless subjects generally were. This is in line with earlier studies

Tinnitus can be temporary, caused by excess wax or an inner-ear infection. It might also be caused by the toxic effects of drugs like aspirin (which appears to weaken the neural signals from the ear to the brain) or those used to treat cancer. Some people with normal hearing develop spontaneous tinnitus, but the majority of people with chronic symptoms develop them in conjunction with hearing loss.

As of now, there is no easy fix. There’s nothing you can pick up at the drug store to treat tinnitus or its symptoms. However – and since tinnitus goes hand in hand with hearing loss, more often than not – there are maskers in certain hearing aids that can ‘distract’ the brain from the phantom noises that tinnitus create from “pink noise” to ocean sounds.

If you suffer from tinnitus, first make sure there is no physical reason for the ringing by visiting your ENT, and if that doesn’t solve the issue, visit your Audiologist and discuss tinnitus maskers.