Contributed by Joy Victory, managing editor, Healthy Hearing
If you are one of the millions of people in the world that has tinnitus, you know it can impact everything from your work to your family and social life. That constant ringing in the ears can also lead to stress and depression.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual sound is present. For many, tinnitus is characterized by ringing in the ears, but it can also sound like whistling, buzzing or hissing.
According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus sufferers in the United States number in the millions. And with so many people suffering from tinnitus, it is more important than ever to be able to distinguish fact from fiction. Knowing the truth about tinnitus can give you the best chance to effectively approach the condition and reduce the symptoms to improve your quality of life.
Myth: Tinnitus is a disease
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself, but a symptom that is the result of any number of underlying medical conditions. Damaging noise, neurological damage, vascular disease, or even traumatic brain injury are just some examples of health issues that can contribute to tinnitus. Tinnitus (and hearing loss) can also develop as a reaction to certain medications. There is no “cure,” but there are treatments available that will lessen the symptoms and make tinnitus easier to live with.
Myth: I can just change my diet and my tinnitus will go away
While some feel that certain additives and foods such as alcohol, sodium and caffeine can aggravate tinnitus, they are not usually the root cause. It is always important to overall health to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes exercise, but tinnitus needs to be addressed separately. Tinnitus management strategies can include dietary and lifestyle changes, but these alone won’t “cure” tinnitus.
Myth: Only those with hearing loss get tinnitus
Yes, those with hearing loss can also get tinnitus, and they are often related. But it is also possible to get tinnitus without having hearing loss. If you are exposed to very loud noise, such as a rock concert or an explosion, you might experience temporary ringing in the ears. And certain other medical conditions or use of medications can cause tinnitus as well. Even if you don’t think you have hearing loss, it is still worth getting checked out by a hearing healthcare professional.
Myth: Everyone with tinnitus eventually goes deaf
Tinnitus and hearing loss often coexist but are separate conditions. Just because you have tinnitus doesn’t mean you have hearing loss, and even if you have hearing loss, it doesn’t mean you are going deaf. Hearing aids can correct hearing loss and can often manage tinnitus symptoms at the same time.
Myth: Hearing aids won’t help with tinnitus
The truth is that is that new developments in hearing aid technology can address both hearing loss and symptoms of tinnitus by increasing the sounds of external noise, thereby masking the internal sounds of tinnitus. This is known as “masking.” Advances have been made in sound therapy with great success, for example. Other ways to manage the symptoms include meditation, stress management techniques and changes in diet and exercise. See a hearing care professional that specializes in tinnitus to talk about your options.
Myth: There is nothing I can do about tinnitus
There is something you can do! Research into tinnitus is ongoing, and treatments are constantly evolving and improving. Whether your tinnitus is mild, moderate or severe, a hearing healthcare professional can offer solutions and treatments to help lessen the symptoms and make your condition more manageable. In addition, other healthcare professionals can diagnose and address the health issues that might be causing the tinnitus in the first place. There are also many at-home techniques, such as habituation, that can provide relief.
Myth: Tinnitus is only from listening to loud music or using earbuds
While listening to dangerously loud music, or any excessive noise for that matter, can result in tinnitus, there can be many different causes. People of different ages, races, health statuses and socioeconomic backgrounds get tinnitus, and quite often there is no obvious reason. In other words, just because you don’t listen to loud music or use earbuds doesn’t mean you are immune.
Myth: Tinnitus is all in your head
Just because others can’t “see” your tinnitus, and there are no test results that will show the presence of it, doesn’t mean it isn’t all too real. Millions of people worldwide suffer from tinnitus, and it can vary from mild to debilitating. Don’t suffer in silence. There are experts that can help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Myth: Tinnitus is harmless
Fortunately, tinnitus is often harmless. But for some people, it can signal a serious medical problem, such as heart disease, high blood pressure or an acoustic neuroma. This is why you shouldn’t disregard the ringing in your ears—have a medical professional evaluate your symptoms.
Myth: My partner’s tinnitus is no big deal
For people with bothersome, severe and/or chronic tinnitus, it can certainly affect their quality of life, and make it harder to relate to those around them. Some people may develop suicidal thoughts when they have tinnitus. Fortunately, there are specific ways to support your loved one with tinnitus.