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All About Tinnitus: Part 1 – What is Tinnitus?
What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the condition in which one experiences sounds without the stimulus of an external noise source.
Tinnitus is commonly referred to as a “ringing of the ears,” but it is not necessarily always a ringing sound. The sound is personal and differs person to person. It has been described as a whoosh of air; a cracking; a buzz; a pop; a crack; a roar; and in some cases, even some measures of music. Tinnitus may be temporary or chronic.
Prevalence of Tinnitus
According to a 2008 study by Kochkin, Tyler, and Born, approximately 30 million Americans suffer from tinnitus. For 40% of people who suffer from tinnitus, it was reported that tinnitus accompanies them for 80% of the day. Approximately 20% of tinnitus cases reported are disabling or nearly disabling.
Tinnitus appears in 80% of cases of hearing loss, and the two have been closely linked as a result. Risk factors for tinnitus include smoking, cardiovascular problems, exposure to loud noise, and gender (men are more likely to experience tinnitus).
Effects of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a distracting condition, often causes frustration. Especially in cases where tinnitus is chronic, tinnitus has been linked to elevated levels of stress and anxiety. It may also contribute to sleep deprivation, as the sounds may be distracting as people fall asleep. Tinnitus has adverse effects in the workplace, causing memory problems and a decreased level of productivity.
Tinnitus itself may be an effect of related medical issues (see below). In some instances, treating related medical conditions may eliminate the symptoms of tinnitus.
Types and Causes of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.
Subjective tinnitus is the more common form, making up more than 99% of tinnitus cases. Subjective tinnitus is linked to auditory issues, and may accompany sensorineural hearing loss (due to aging or exposure to loud noise). Subjective tinnitus may be caused by ototoxic medication, exposure to loud noise, aging, and issues relating to hearing such as Meniere’s disease or congenital bone problems within the ear. Subjective tinnitus may be linked to damage caused to inner ear hair cells, which do not regenerate. Some specialists believe that damaged inner ear hair cells may leak sound – which may cause tinnitus. With subjective tinnitus, only the person who experiences tinnitus is able to hear the sounds.
Objective tinnitus makes up less than 1% of tinnitus cases, and it may be heard by both the person who experiences tinnitus and a person who happens to sit in close proximity. Objective tinnitus may be linked to high blood pressure, cardiovascular or musculo-skeletal conditions. Pulsatile tinnitus is a form of objective tinnitus in which the sounds occur in the same rhythm as a heartbeat.
This is the first in a three part series about tinnitus. Tune in next time to learn about how tinnitus is identified and treated.
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