1 in 10 Americans Suffer From Tinnitus
If the new study out of the University of California is correct, you probably know somebody who suffers from tinnitus. Tinnitus is a condition where people perceive a “ringing in the ears”, or hear other noises (like buzzing, hissing or roaring), in the absence of actual sound. According to the new study, about 1 in every 10 Americans suffers from this annoying condition, which has no cure and can actually cause depression, anxiety and other problems.
Tinnitus is not considered a disease by medical professionals. Instead, it is treated like a symptom of something else. For instance, tinnitus is often the first sign of hearing loss in the elderly. It is also a common side effect of many medications. It can be caused by something as simple as earwax blocking the ear canal, or by sinus infections, ear infections, heart disease, Ménière’s disease, thyroid problems, hormonal changes or (rarely) brain tumors. Most often, though, it is the result of exposure to loud noises, especially occupational exposure. Construction workers, military service members, musicians, and other people who work in a loud environment all frequently suffer from tinnitus.
In addition to its widespread prevalence, the study found that about 27% of people with tinnitus had symptoms for more than 15 years, and about 36% had symptoms almost all the time. Fortunately, only 7% of tinnitus sufferers reported it as a major problem in their lives, while 41.6% said that it was only a small problem. In fact, only 49.4% had discussed their symptoms with their doctor. This could be a good thing or a bad thing – it might be that tinnitus sufferers don’t feel like the problem warrants treatment because it isn’t so bad. On the other hand, it could be that tinnitus sufferers don’t seek treatment because they don’t believe anything can help.
While it’s true that there is no cure for tinnitus, it’s not true that nothing can help with the symptoms. Hearing aids, sound generators, cochlear implants, acoustic neural stimulation, medications and even counseling are government-recommended treatments that have been shown to help (to varying degrees) with the symptoms of tinnitus. If you think you have tinnitus, your first step should be to contact your doctor. Your primary care physician will be able to help determine if anything simple is causing your problem – like a blocked ear canal or a medication side effect. If they can’t find the cause, they may refer you to an ENT (ear, nose, and throat doctor) or an audiologist. Both specialize in hearing disorders, and may be able to measure and treat your symptoms.