Tinnitus has many presentations. It can sound like a high pitched “eeeeeeee”, a whistle, the static on an old radio or the sparking of electrical wires. The noise experience can differ between sufferers but they all have one thing in common. They want the noise to stop!
Types of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus:
Subjective tinnitus is the most common form. Only the individual can hear the noise and it may present with some degree of hearing loss.
Objective tinnitus is a sound that can be heard by you and someone else. For example, your GP should be able to hear the same sounds when they listen through a stethoscope placed near your ear.
The causes of tinnitus can be varied. A major cause is being exposed to loud noises. Maybe you were the one stood in front of the loudspeaker at your local club or perhaps you’ve worked around loud noises for a prolonged period. Within the ears are tiny hair cells called cilia which bend and move in response to the normal sound waves that enter the ear. These send the sensation of sound to the brain for processing, but if the sounds entering the ear are extremely loud, then these tiny hairs can break or warp and are no longer able to send the sound sensations to the brain. Unlike normal hairs, these ones don’t grow back and so breakages can result in tinnitus and/or hearing loss.
Loud noises aren’t the only cause though. Things like an excessive build-up of wax, middle ear infections, medications and certain medical conditions can also cause tinnitus.
Although the risk factors for tinnitus are relatively well publicised, treatments and outcomes are varied. Tinnitus may come and go as it pleases or it may just go away itself eventually. But in others, it may become a permanent and prolonged condition. Tinnitus has no timeline either. Its presentation and how long it lasts can depend on the individual.
Where tinnitus has been caused by short-term noise damage like going to a loud music concert, then it is likely it will go away after a few days. But if it has lasted a few months then there is the possibility that the tinnitus is long-term.
Management of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be managed using various interventions. Standard treatments include the use of sound therapy. Methods include the use of hearing aids or sound generators designed to limit the distress caused by the persistent noise. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also a popular treatment.
Complementary and alternative medicine is another popular method for managing tinnitus. he benefits of these types of management are based on individual responses, so what works for one person may have no effect on someone else and vice-versa.
So, Is There A Cure?
Put simply, no. There is no miracle cure for tinnitus. Instead, long-term tinnitus should be managed with standard, alternative treatments or a combination of both.
When tinnitus first starts it can be a worrying experience and as it is new, the noise can be at its most noticeable. Therefore, it can take a while for the body to adapt to this new change and many people find that after this initial period the noise does seem to settle and even quieten down – also known as habituation. After this settling down period, you may notice your tinnitus less and less. This is great news as it generally means you can carry on doing the activities you enjoy without being distracted.
Research into tinnitus is ongoing but at present, it remains a somewhat medical enigma. Although, it is known that it may begin in the ear but chronic tinnitus continues in the brain, the mechanisms of how this happens is hotly debated by researchers. Future research lies in identifying where on the path between the ear and the brain things have gone wrong to cause tinnitus. Once this has been discovered, researchers may be able to develop a therapeutic treatment that could one day bring about the end to tinnitus.
Prevention Rather Than Cure
So, without any explicit cures for tinnitus, you should focus your attention on prevention instead. The avoidance of frequent, loud noises is key to keep tinnitus at bay. For example, if you are exposed to loud noises regularly wear protection like foam earplugs to prevent long-lasting damage to your ears.
Some prescription medications state that a side effect could be tinnitus. For those where tinnitus does manifest as a result, they may find it resolves itself upon completion of the medication. But if you feel you may be more at risk of tinnitus, this is something you should discuss with your GP before commencing any new medication.
Ear infections should be addressed as soon as possible to avoid any damage which may result in tinnitus. The use of cotton buds to clean the ears should be avoided. The ears have a clever mechanism to self-clean and so there is no need to insert foreign objects into the ear canal. The insertion of foreign objects into the ear can damage the hearing mechanisms or can cause wax to become compacted and build-up which can result in tinnitus.
Overall, there is no miracle cure for tinnitus. In some cases such as exposure to loud noise at a concert or an ear infection or cold, the tinnitus may resolve itself after a few weeks. If the noise is persistent it is likely that the tinnitus will be more permanent. Although, it may not be possible to make it go away for good, there are treatment methods which can help you to cope with the noise on a daily basis.