If you live with a persistent buzzing, ringing, or humming in your ears, you’re not alone. Roughly 50 million Americans, equaling 15 percent of the population, live with tinnitus. This hearing condition, which can be temporary or permanent, is most commonly experienced as slight buzzing, ringing, roaring, or even clicking sound. What makes this condition often so frustrating is that only the individual suffering from tinnitus can hear these sounds.
Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather, a symptom of an underlying cause or condition. Tinnitus can be caused by injuries, illnesses, or even occur naturally, spurred on by age-related hearing loss. Regardless of the cause, tinnitus can often make daily life a struggle, making it a challenge to communicate, concentrate, or enjoy your daily activities. While tinnitus may be a mild annoyance for some, more severe forms can disrupt the individuals’ life.
Many individuals experience hearing loss and tinnitus in tandem, but may not understand the connection (if there even is one) between these two hearing conditions. Here, we explore how these two conditions may be related and try to understand how hearing loss can contribute to tinnitus. We also look at some of the most common causes and potential treatment options for tinnitus.
COMMON CAUSES OF TINNITUS
Tinnitus can be a challenging hearing disorder to understand and diagnose because there are many unique causes. We will address the relationship between hearing loss and tinnitus at greater depth, but here’s a brief look into some of the other common causes of tinnitus:
1. Exposure to loud noises.
Over time, repeated exposure to loud noises (like concerts, airplanes taking off, construction or factory noises) can develop into temporary or permanent tinnitus and hearing loss.
2. Ear wax blockage.
When ear wax builds up in the ear canal, it can lead to hearing difficulties, including tinnitus. If this is the cause of your tinnitus or hearing loss, audiologists can drain the excessive ear wax, which often relieves the tinnitus symptoms.
3. Changes to your ear bones.
Otosclerosis refers to the abnormal growth of the bone in the middle ear. This growth may cause issues within the structure of the ear than can lead to tinnitus and other hearing disorders.
4. Acoustic neuroma.
This slow-growing tumor is noncancerous (benign), and for some, can cause tinnitus symptoms.
5. Head and neck injuries.
Any serious injury to the head, neck, or jaw, can lead to temporary or permanent tinnitus.
6. Meniere’s disease.
This disease is a disorder of the inner ear that can often lead to symptoms of vertigo, like dizziness and imbalance, in addition to hearing issues like tinnitus. Generally, Meniere’s disease only affects one ear. These episodes occur at random, and following an incident, may disappear for a period of time.
HOW DOES HEARING LOSS CONTRIBUTE TO TINNITUS?
Hearing loss and tinnitus are closely linked. According to the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), 90 percent of people with tinnitus also experience some form of hearing loss. While closely linked, however, it is still important to note that hearing loss is always accompanied by tinnitus or vice versa.
For many individuals, their tinnitus symptoms follow the unique pattern of their hearing loss. For example, if you only experience hearing loss in one ear, your tinnitus may also just affect one ear. If you have difficulty with high frequencies, your tinnitus may sound like a high-pitched ringing. But why is this? Many doctors believe it has to do with how the ear processes sound.
When a sound wave hits the ear, cells convert into electrical signals that then reach the brain via your auditory nerves. Any damage to their nerves, whether from illness, injury, or even naturally from old age, can lead to hearing loss. As a result, your auditory system may become more sensitive to sounds by overcompensating in an attempt to transmit the noises. This may be why hearing loss is related to tinnitus, in addition to conditions of sound sensitivity.
Researchers, however, are still studying the auditory system in an attempt to learn more about hearing loss and tinnitus and how these two hearing conditions are connected.
DOES TINNITUS CAUSE HEARING LOSS?
While those with hearing loss often also suffer from tinnitus, one does not directly cause the other. Some common causes of tinnitus, however, such as repeated exposure to loud noises, may also lead to temporary or permanent hearing loss.
HOW TO TREAT TINNITUS
While there is no medical cure for tinnitus, doctors and audiologists have developed a variety of treatment methods to help their patients cope with their symptoms. The most effective treatment will depend on the underlying cause of your tinnitus, which is why it’s imperative to first get diagnosed by a doctor or audiologist. Here are some of the most common treatment options for those with tinnitus:
1. Hearing aids.
There are a wide range of hearing aids available that are effective at treating various hearing conditions. This treatment option may be particularly effective for those suffering from hearing loss and tinnitus.
2. White noise machines.
These machines emit environmental sounds, such as rain falling or the sounds of the ocean, to mask and reduce the symptoms of tinnitus. These devices are also effective for promoting relaxation.
3. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT).
This newer method consists of a device that the patient wears to accustom them to their tinnitus. The device emits tonal frequencies to mask tinnitus symptoms.
4. Ear wax removal.
If your tinnitus is caused by excessive ear wax, an audiologist can perform a procedure that flushes out the wax. This can be done regularly as needed to treat tinnitus symptoms.
CONCLUSION – HOW DOES HEARING LOSS CONTRIBUTE TO TINNITUS?
While individuals often experience hearing loss and tinnitus, the two conditions are not caused by one another. Tinnitus does not directly cause hearing loss. Instead, both hearing loss and tinnitus are generally symptoms of the same condition, such as exposure to loud noises, TMJ disorders, or age-related hearing loss.
If you believe you are suffering from hearing loss, tinnitus, or both, it’s important to see a professional audiologist who can diagnose your condition. Following a complete diagnosis, you can work with your doctor or audiologist to see which treatment plan might prove the most effective.