By definition, tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of any actual corresponding noise. For millions of Americans, however, tinnitus is an exasperating ordeal marked by constant buzzing, whirring and other varieties of noise that simply won’t go away no matter what.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, about 25 million Americans have experienced tinnitus at some point. While some get better in a matter of months, others continue to experience difficulties for decades, with many never finding any sort of real relief. Unfortunately, tinnitus can be difficult to treat, because it’s not always easy to determine a cause.
Finding the Cause
According to the Mayo Clinic, people may experience this frustrating condition for numerous reasons, including earwax buildup, head trauma, adverse reactions to medications, age-related hearing loss, exposure to very loud noises, ear bone changes, blood vessel disorders, tumors, Meniere’s disease and more.
In some cases, people owe their tinnitus to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD). In these instances, sufferers may be able to find relief by indirectly treating their TMD. According to TMJ dentist, Dr. Adam Hahn of Columbia, South Carolina, there are certain things patients should consider when assessing the source of their tinnitus.
“Obviously, tinnitus can occur for a number of reasons,” he said. “That said, if patients are also experiencing headaches, jaw pain, chewing difficulties or clicking and popping within the jaw joint; there’s a chance their tinnitus stems from temporomandibular joint disorder. When patients meet with their health care providers, it’s important to relay every single symptom they are experiencing, even if they think they are unrelated to the tinnitus. This will give the clinician the best possible opportunity to correctly determine what’s going on.”
Over time, tinnitus can seriously detract from a sufferer’s quality of life. Researchers have linked tinnitus with serious anxiety and depression; and many sufferers are forced to rely on sedative and antidepressant medications to help them cope. On the other hand, in lieu of an effective treatment that can quiet the noise, many sufferers have found good coping strategies based on distraction and cognitive therapies.
Some sufferers rely on masking devices that funnel white noise into the ear to serve as a distraction from constant sounds associated with tinnitus. On the other hand, a study conducted by researchers at the National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research found that telephone counseling from audiologists and psychologists proved beneficial for sufferers by helping them improve self-perceived functional limitations associated with their conditions.
In the end, although many people are forced to live with incurable tinnitus, health professionals do have ways to make the condition more tolerable. If you or someone you know suffers from this life-altering condition, visit an audiologist to see what options are available.
- NCBI: Pilot study to develop telehealth tinnitus management
- Mayo Clinic: Tinnitus
Ryan Lawrence writes for Off-Topic Media. Many thanks to Dr. Adam Hahn for his contributions to this story.