As many as 1 in 5 older adults experiences tinnitus, the perception of sound in the ears that can’t be explained by any external source. Commonly called “ringing in the ears,” the sound can range from hissing to buzzing to almost anything that appears to have no cause and that you can’t stop.
A recent issue of Harvard Health Publications discussed how, although tinnitus can’t be cured, it can be treated. Although both genders suffer from tinnitus, it’s more common in men, who were the focus of the Harvard article. But as studies by the National Institutes of Health have noted, women often are more annoyed by the various sounds only they hear, and perceive more stress because of them than men.
Most people with tinnitus have incurred physical damage to the sound-sensing cells in their inner ears. So the takeaway here is to prevent damage in the first place by protecting your ears throughout your life. Avoid loud noises – we’re talking to you, rock concert and car race fans. If you’re at one of these events, or if you’re working with loud machinery, even in the yard, wear ear plugs.
The noise of tinnitus can cause depression, insomnia and difficulties in relationships. Like chronic pain, it can affect your lifestyle significantly. So find out more about it, the Harvard writers recommend, by seeing a hearing specialist for a comprehensive exam to evaluate underlying problems you might have. Such an exam also sets a baseline for measuring future changes in your hearing.
Hearing loss often accompanies tinnitus. Hearing aids can help not only to restore at least some hearing, but to reduce the unwelcome noise. But properly fitting a hearing aid is an art, and can require several visits to an audiologist. And insurance seldom covers the cost.
Because so many people are troubled by tinnitus there is no shortage of “treatments.” Many are bogus or unproved, and you should avoid them. They include:
- prescription medications such as antidepressants, tranquilizers and antiseizure drugs;
- dietary supplements such as ginkgo biloba, melatonin and zinc;
- acupuncture – research has not shown an effect on tinnitus, although some people believe it helps, and if done properly it presents minimal risk.
If you suffer from tinnitus, you might be able to you drown it out at bedtime with a sound generator that produces “white noise,” or soothing sounds such waves on the beach.
Behavioral counseling can help you identify coping mechanisms, but it might take a couple of months. Biofeedback might help as well; it’s a technique to help you become more aware of your physiological responses to certain stimuli with the goal of being able to manipulate them.
For other tips about living with and minimizing the effects of tinnitus, visit the website of the American Tinnitus Association.