Tinnitus is the perception of ringing, buzzing or humming in the ears. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself- it’s actually more a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, an ear injury or infection.
1 in 3 people are likely to experience tinnitus at some point in their life, although around 80% of sufferers are over 40.
Age related hearing loss can begin as early as 40 and is usually gradual so, at first, you may not notice you’re starting to loose your hearing. As we age the bones of the inner ear, responsible for relaying sound information to the brain, deteriorate. This means that the brain isn’t getting the quantity of information it used to. To make up for it the brain sends out a ringing sound to the ear to try and pick up more information- this is known as tinnitus.
If you’re unsure of whether you’re suffering from age related hearing loss, speak to your GP who may recommend you wear a discreet hearing aid. This should dramatically improve your symptoms of tinnitus by ensuring your brain is receiving the information it needs.
Loud noises over 85dB can cause permanent hearing loss, at any age, by damaging the delicate hairs in the ear also responsible for relaying auditory information to the brain. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure, such as attending a loud concert, usually goes away; however long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
Noise related ear injuries are 100% preventable. If you’re going to be exposed to loud noises over 85dB consider investing in a pair of discreet earplugs to reduce the affect of the most damaging higher frequencies. If you’re not sure of the level of sound you’re being exposed to, there are several apps available with easy to use sound meters.
Symptoms of an ear infection include inflammation of the inner ear and fluid build up behind the eardrum, both of which can lead to temporary tinnitus. When we hear a sound it’s picked up by delicate nerve hairs in the inner ear, which, along with the ear bones, relay the sound to the brain so it can make sense of it. If there’s a change in the system, caused by an ear infection, the amount of information being sent to the brain slows. The brain then responds to this by trying to get more information from the ear. The extra information you experience can be ringing, buzzing or humming, also known as tinnitus.
If you use earplugs or hearing aids, make sure you keep them clean to minimise infection causing bacteria. If you feel the need to clean your ears resist the urge of using cotton buds or putting things in your ear as this increases the chance of infections. If you think you may have tinnitus caused by an ear infection see your GP who will be able to prescribe a course of antibiotics.
Similar to an ear infection, a build up of wax in the inner ear can prevent tiny hairs in the ear from relaying auditory information to the brain. To make up for a lack of sound the brain will send out its own signals to the ear to try and get more information. This takes the shape of ringing, buzzing and humming, also known as tinnitus.
Your ears clean themselves naturally however if you are worried about a build-up of hardened wax it can be softened using olive oil drops. Once softened the wax is likely to release itself naturally. If not, you will be able to have it removed by a hearing healthcare provider.
Chronic stress and anxiety has been shown to increase electrical activity in the part of the brain responsible for decoding sound information from the ear. This increase in activity can then lead to ‘phantom’ ringing, buzzing and humming in the ears.
If you find yourself suffering from stress and anxiety try and maintain a healthy life balance with plenty of exercise. Don’t feel guilty for taking time to yourself to enjoy a favourite book or meet up with friends. You could also try incorporating a herbal supplement for stress into your diet.
Many medicines used to treat conditions such as high blood pressure; diabetes and cancer are toxic to the sensory cells in your ears. As these cells become damaged the level of information reaching the brain changes, resulting in tinnitus as your brain tries to gather the information it needs from your ear.
If you think you may be experiencing medication induced tinnitus, don’t suffer alone, speak to your GP about changing your medication. If all else fails and you're unable to change your medication you could also consider using a herbal supplement for tinnitus.
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