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Are you one of the millions of Americans suffering from tinnitus? You may be concerned that it will impact your hearing health. Although it’s a misconception that tinnitus causes hearing loss, the two are closely connected, and you likely also have hearing loss if you have tinnitus.
Tinnitus is being able to hear sound when there is no real external source producing it. Tinnitus can be expressed in several distinct types of noise, such as buzz, hissing, whistling, slowing and clicking. It is usually experienced as a ringing in the ear. Hearing loss, on the other hand, is a disruption in your ability to capture and process sound properly.
The connection between tinnitus and hearing loss
Tinnitus is not a disease. Instead, it is commonly an underlying symptom to another problem. Researchers speculate that there is a shared cause for both tinnitus and hearing loss, so it’s no wonder that they often appear together.
Hearing loss (specifically sensorineural hearing loss) is generally triggered by harm to sensitive cells in the inner ear. When these hair cells are harmed, some of the sound waves that hit your ear are not identified, and no message is sent from the ear to the brain to inform your brain about that sound. You experience this as hearing loss.
Tinnitus is triggered by the same cells that have been harmed. Even though the hair cells aren’t picking up the sound waves around you, sometimes they still fire, sending meaningless electrical signals to your brain when none of the other cells are detecting any sound. That’s why tinnitus is most prevalent when you’re in a quiet environment. As your hearing loss deteriorates your tinnitus will also get worse, which is why you may have thought that tinnitus was the main factor in causing your hearing loss.
Types of hearing loss that can lead to tinnitus
Some scientists think that there can be no tinnitus without some previous harm to the auditory system. Here are the two most common hearing losses connected to tinnitus:
Noise-induced hearing loss – Being in the presence of loud noise, either in a single extreme event or over a longer period of time, can harm the hearing system and lead to hearing loss and often tinnitus. Traumatic noise exposure can occur in many different scenarios, from being on duty in the armed forces to standing too close to the speaker at a music festival.
Age-related hearing loss – Hearing often erodes as individuals get older, usually beginning around the age of 60. This type of hearing loss tends to be in both ears and involves the initial loss in detection of high frequencies in the cochlea. Age-related hearing loss demonstrates why tinnitus is so common among seniors. Unlike Noise-induced Hearing Loss, Presbycusis is the aggregate outcome of the ordinary aging of the ear through a lifetime of normal use.
How tinnitus can be treated
One of the most popular treatments for tinnitus is sound therapy, which utilizes internal noise such as background music or a white noise machine to disguise the awareness of tinnitus. Sound therapy, however, provides only short term relief. When the external noise is removed, the individual experiencing tinnitus will again see their tinnitus symptoms return.
Hearing aids, however, can provide more extended relief from tinnitus because they magnify all kinds of environmental sounds. The ambient sounds that the hearing aid can pick up can thus divert the attention of the individual with tinnitus away from the ringing and to other sounds.
Another therapy used to treat tinnitus is called Tinnitus Retraining Therapy. Here, the auditory system is retrained to understand the sounds of tinnitus as natural sounds. This therapy can be compared to the sound of water droplets falling on the roof that are noticed at the start of the rain, but they go unrecognized and disappear after a while. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy requires close collaboration with hearing experts. The treatment is used at the presumed source of tinnitus and seeks to encourage the brain to overlook it.
Hearing Wellness Solutions
If you have experienced tinnitus or hearing loss, please contact us at Hearing Wellness Solutions to take a hearing test. In many instances, listening examinations completed by one of our qualified audiologists are an important step in diagnosing and managing your tinnitus. If the assessment shows you have some other condition responsible for the tinnitus, the treatment often relieves tinnitus as well.