What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound in the ear even when there is no noise in the external environment. It is mistakenly attributed to deaf people and those with tinnitus are considered deaf. The study of this condition is part of deaf education and deaf culture but that does not mean that someone with symptoms will turn deaf. The sound in the ear may be a buzzing or ringing of varying pitch and intensity. Tinnitus can be a symptom of various problems including something as simple as wax build-up to something extremely serious like the presence of tumors. Occasionally, it may be a precursor to deafness in the person. It is estimated that about 40 million Americans have chronic tinnitus and for about a quarter of these, it can be a debilitating experience. However, tinnitus is viewed as symptomatic rather than a disease just as the deaf community views being deaf as a difference in human experience rather than a disability afflicting deaf people.
Causes of Tinnitus
A problem in the inner ear can lead to tinnitus. The inner ear contains fluid and the movement of this fluid stimulates the hearing nerve. Tinnitus occurs when this process is disturbed in some way. Middle ear infection or new buildup of bony tissue can be a cause of tinnitus. Medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, thyroid disease and cardiac problems can all lead to tinnitus. Exposure to loud noise is a very common cause of tinnitus. Traumatic brain injury or concussions, side effects of certain drugs, can also lead to temporary or permanent tinnitus in some people. Aging is yet another leading cause of tinnitus which can then turn into deafness. The causes of tinnitus are discussed in the deaf community and in deaf culture to create awareness.
The extent of the problem is diagnosed through an extensive review of the patient’s medical history, physical exam, and a hearing test. In some instances, an MRI scan may be required to arrive at a definitive diagnosis. In some cases of tinnitus, the doctor may be able to listen to the sound that the patient hears, with the help of a stethoscope or an ear tube. There is no definitive cure for all types of tinnitus, but there are some treatments that can help provide some relief. In some instances, surgery might be of help though this is not a common solution. Different treatments work for different people so it might take a while to locate the right one for an individual. These treatments are discussed in deaf education and figure prominently in matters related to deaf culture.
Neuromonics devices which combine counseling and music or songs aim at desensitizing the tinnitus signal. Hearing aids are recommended in people who suffer from hearing loss along with the tinnitus. Tinnitus maskers have been used as early as the 1970s and here sound is used to provide relief from the tinnitus. Medicines and relaxations are some of the other commonly used methods of treating tinnitus. Cochlear implants are resorted to in very few extreme cases. Some of the treatments used to combat tinnitus are considered ‘experimental’ and are often not covered by insurance plans.
Tips for Prevention of Tinnitus
Since excessive noise exposure can lead to tinnitus, protecting the hearing in noisy environments is a good preventive measure. Aspirin is one of the medications, which if used extensively, can lead to tinnitus. Controlling high blood pressure can help alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus in some people as can also avoiding stimulants like caffeine and tobacco. Resting properly and avoiding fatigue can also lessen or do away with tinnitus. Taking these precautions can help keep deafness at bay in many instances. At the same time, deaf people can also develop tinnitus and this underlines the need for more efforts in creating awareness about this in the deaf community through better deaf education.
These are some links that can provide useful information about tinnitus: