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Do you ever find yourself looking forward to peace and quiet at the end of a busy day, just to be confronted with a buzz in your ears? This is the sound of tinnitus. It can present itself in various sounds such as a roar, hum, or buzz, but appears to have no external source. If you are experiencing this pesky buzz, you are not alone. A study from the University of California Irvine has found that tinnitus is more common than we might have first suspected.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound without external sound stimuli. This condition may seem benign at first. For most affected it comes and goes, by for the estimated 20 million people who struggle with chronic tinnitus, and 2 million who report extreme, debilitating tinnitus, it can interrupt sleep, cause chronic anxiety, stress, and interrupt the ability to focus during the day.
Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
While tinnitus is not necessarily connected to hearing loss, nearly 90 percent of those affected by tinnitus do have hearing loss as well. It is believed that this close connection is due to damage of tiny hair cells responsible for sending sound information to the brain. There are several factors which can cause this damage such as exposure to extreme levels of sound, impact to the head, chronic ear infections, certain medications, and changes to the ear as we age. When damage occurs, the signal to the brain is interrupted. It is believed that damage to these inner ear cells can also trigger unintentional signals to the brain which are perceived as symptoms of tinnitus.
Tinnitus is Extremely Common
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public — over 50 million Americans — experience some form of tinnitus. Now a study from the University of California Irvine has uncovered how serious this is. The study surveyed over 75,000 adults and determined that over 222 million or approximately 9.6% or 21.4 million people have a recent experience of tinnitus in the US. This means that around one in every ten Americans has experienced tinnitus in just the past year. This research is valuable in understanding just how tinnitus manifests in an individual’s hearing. The survey found that over one-third (36%) of people who reported tinnitus experienced it constantly. Over one quarter (27%) reported having dealt with tinnitus for 15 years or more!
The Varying Effects of Tinnitus
When tinnitus symptoms arrive before sleeping it can cause insomnia. As you struggle to make a sound from inside your head go away, the stress often makes symptoms more severe. It can also affect concentration at work or while driving as you struggle to ignore a persistent ringing in the ears. The severity of the condition varies for everyone, but the more stress tinnitus causes, the worse symptoms become. The UC Irvine study asked participants with tinnitus to describe the severity of tinnitus in their life. The collected data showed that around 7% of respondents viewed tinnitus as a major problem, while over 40 percent described their tinnitus as a minor health issue. The majority reported tinnitus as somewhere in between these extremes.
Around half of the study participants with tinnitus had discussed their symptoms with their physician. While there is no cure for tinnitus there are several methods for reducing symptoms. Many people find success in a conversational therapy style called cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). In CBT the therapist will help the patient explore and modify their response to tinnitus to help make it less prominent in their focus.
Others find success in masking the sound with other sounds. For those who struggle to fall asleep, a white noise machine or music can help cover the sound. For those who struggle during the day, many hearing aids come with masking features so you can concentrate as you go through the day.
Addressing a Hearing Loss
No matter which of the many routes you choose for treating tinnitus, it is important to consider that tinnitus is a common sign that you have hearing loss. Many people live with undiagnosed hearing loss for years because it often develops slowly. The sooner you treat a hearing loss the sooner you can start to address communication issues that are most likely developing. If you have experienced tinnitus, use this as a great excuse to schedule a hearing exam today.