What Is Tinnitus?

tinnitus Mar 07, 2021

What is this thing called tinnitus in our heads?

According to the Mayo Clinic, Tinnitus is "when you experience ringing or other noises in one or both of your ears. The noise you hear when you have tinnitus isn't caused by an external sound, and other people usually can't hear it." As a practicing audiologist, I have seen countless cases of tinnitus. Often, the ringing is related to inner ear damage caused by an over exposure to loud noises. Most individuals that I have seen have had a history of working around loud machinery, construction equipment, playing live music professionally or have some sort of military background. As a professional who also lives with tinnitus, I will be sharing my personal experience in upcoming posts and video blogs. 

But doc, what if I have it and have never had that kind of exposure?

Tinnitus is a tricky thing. However, there is a lot of research coming out and we are learning that there are many other causes. For example, age related hearing loss can be a factor because of the breakdown of the inner ear. I do want to point out though that someone with age-related hearing loss typically has had some sort over of over exposure from excessive noise throughout their life. For example, most of us have been to a loud concert or a wedding (or 2). Yes, these may have been one off experiences but it's all cumulative. Just one of those events could have been enough to weaken the inner ear. Our ancestors didn't stand around in rooms with speakers blasting sound pressure into our ears at an excess of 100 decibels or more. Our ears have not evolved to take that kind of beating.

But doc, I'm telling you, I've avoided situations like that my whole life, I still have the ringing.

There are still many other conditions that may cause tinnitus. Here are a few things that are often associated (among many others):

  • Build-up of of excessive ear wax - to the point where it is impacted and blocking the ear drum
  • Middle ear infection - when there is fluid in the middle ear space that is not allowing the ear drum to move properly
  • Otosclerosis - Typically an inherited condition where there is an abnormal growth of bone on the middle ear bones which can also cause hearing loss (Some women experience otosclerosis after menopause) 
  • Meniere's disease - a condition that also may cause hearing loss and in many cases vertigo (a sensation of spinning)
  • Medications - Always speak to your doctor about the side effects from any medications you're on. You may be surprised that one of your prescribed medications is causing ringing as a side effect or you may be one more than one drug and they are interacting with one another. Medications are important and life saving in many cases. However, you still have a right to know.
  • Supplements - Some supplements are helpful. But, some can be problematic. Always check with your doctor when you start a new supplement regimen. 
  • Poor diet - What? how is that possible? I will be posting about this a lot in the future.
  • Poor sleep hygiene - This is a big one. Trust me. 

Could it be something more serious?

As a licensed audiologist, it is always my perspective to seek medical treatment with an Otolaryngologist (ENT) when experiencing ringing in the ears, vertigo or hearing loss for the first time. However, it may not always be economical for you to rush out to the doctor. So, when should you go? The short answer, it depends. If the audiologist determines that, for example, the cause of the hearing loss is from something going on in your middle or outer ear, they may recommend to wait it out another week and then to assess if the symptoms subside.

It also depends on how long you've been experiencing symptoms.

If you've had hearing loss for a very long time, the doctor may still recommend an ENT but it may not be immediate. If you woke up yesterday with hearing loss and the audiologist determines that there's nerve damage, you may receive a recommendation to book an appointment with an ENT immediately because in a case like sudden hearing loss, it's often treatable by steroids. 

You also want to make sure there's nothing else going on medically.

So, when it comes to tinnitus, vertigo, or hearing loss, I recommend that you book an appointment with an ENT so that a medical physician can rule out that nothing else serious is occurring. We always want to take the more cautious, better safe than sorry approach. 

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I went to the ENT and he/she determined that I'm fine and told me, "you're going to have to just live with your tinnitus"

While I appreciate your ENT for letting you know that there's nothing wrong with you (as far as they know) that could be causing your tinnitus, I don't agree with that statement about just living with your tinnitus. There IS something wrong, the ENT just doesn't know exactly what may be causing it or they may not have enough knowledge to give any recommendations on how to treat tinnitus beyond just offering some over the counter vitamins.

As someone who also has tinnitus, I can tell you there there absolutely is hope. I found that in 2020, the volume of tinnitus cases increased dramatically. Why do you think that is so? Some may say it was due to COVID-19. Directly? maybe. But, I'm not entirely sold on that. It may cause some cases. However, most of my patients that came in to see me were never exposed to COVID-19. 

So if it wasn't COVID-19, what was it then?

Well, it's important to look at an individual as a whole when treating their tinnitus. What have most people been experiencing in this last year? For many I would say things like: Isolation, confusion, anxiety, stress, fear and frustration. A lot of people have been experiencing an excess of negative emotions since March of 2020. 

Our bodies are THE most potent pharmacy in the known universe. That's right! You're own body is a pharmacy, constantly pumping out chemicals to regulate your body. When we are experiencing any of those negative emotions, our bodies can be in a state or fight or flight. Historically, this was helpful for our ancestors to out run a tiger. However, most humans today will not find themselves in a situation where they have to out run a dangerous animal. Feeling over stressed about the COVID-19 pandemic or what's going on with politics? Now that is something that will keep your brain in that fight or flight. 

As someone who lives with tinnitus, I can tell you for a fact that mine often spikes when I'm feeling stressed or overly tired.

I say all of this to say this: there are ways to gain some freedom and space from the ringing in your head. It's not going to be easy and may be frustrating at times. I promise you that I will always guide you from the knowledge of what I know in the field and my own personal experience. The tools I provide may not necessarily make the ringing disappear completely. However, many of my clients have experienced incredible results.

If you or a loved one is having thoughts of suicide as a result of tinnitus, please contact 911 immediately. If you need to speak to someone, I would be happy to get in touch with you, but please contact 911 first. 

If you would like to learn from me on a regular basis, CLICK HERE to learn more about my Integrative Tinnitus Therapy program. 

In my next post, I'm going to be talking a little about hearing loss and why hearing aids can be so beneficial.



Dr. Recher


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