Imagine listening to a chorus of a thousand cicadas or spending the night in a field with a multitude of crickets. For most of us, these songsters are just summer's background sounds. But many folks cannot escape from similar sounds coming from inside their heads. Is this resemblance another one of Nature's secrets? Meanwhile, in the extreme of this condition fear takes hold as the nonstop ringing brings on a growing sense of loss of control trapping the sufferer in the grip of mental torture.
Perhaps a dooming prognosis for a problem but it is pretty well overlooked by society as a whole and experienced widespread worldwide. Researchers Kochkin and Tyler estimate 10% to 15% of the US population experience persistent chronic tinnitus (ringing in the ears or head noise). Out of half of those bothered by it, 1% say tinnitus "substantially" affects their lives. This article attempts to shed some light on this baffling affliction, its causes, and offer some current research so we may stay "tuned in" with tinnitus!
So what is tinnitus and what causes it? Allow me to use a personal example to illustrate how I waded through the complexity of all this. Since you associate the noises as coming from inside your ear, you may have considered an appointment with an audiologist.* First, he or she will ask if you have been recently traumatized by any noise. It's been only in the last eight months or so since I've started hearing this high pitched buzzing sound. I use "ear" in the singular because I only have one good ear. The left ear has been dead since early childhood when the mumps virus wiped out all my inner ear reception features. I was lucky not to lose all hearing. I noticed the ringing coming on after being subjected to a piercing incessant fire alarm signal lasting about ten minutes in an enclosed room at a nursing home. Later I had a high altitude flight accompanied by severe ear pain, as well as an upper respiratory infection requiring penicillin treatment. I posed the question to my audiologist who booked an appointment for me. She performed a routine hearing test, removed some wax and found that my good ear had lost some higher frequency sounds due to healthy aging. I wondered if there was an association between these three events and my tinnitus.
She explained that by law they make fire alarms within certain decibel limits. In Ontario, the limit is well below the 135dB maximum for the unprotected ear. Prolonged exposure to loud noise experienced by factory workers, for example, can damage the tiny sensory hair cells in the ear that transmit sound to the brain. Although this is the most common cause of tinnitus, it was not my issue. Aircraft passengers often experience a “popping” sensation or pain in the ears caused by air escaping from the middle ear and the sinuses during the plane’s climb. "Popping" is not usually considered a problem for healthy people. I guess I got over that too. Over the last few months, the ringing has subsided from a 6-7 out of 10 to 2-3 out of 10 after the infection was over.
Still after looking at some of the listed causes none stood out. My audiologist reinforced the research findings by stating that tinnitus and hearing loss are linked, but tinnitus does not result in the loss, nor does hearing loss always cause tinnitus. It can occur on its own without any apparent reason.
Still after looking at some of the listed causes none stood out…
In his internet article, "Living with Tinnitus" Michael J.A Ross, M.D., notes that hearing aids can be “ the closest thing to a cure.” A survey of 230 hearing care professionals suggests that six out of ten patients experience minor or major relief when wearing hearing aids. Sadly, even with all the resources, we have few people come forward for help. Perhaps it's possible I won't have to be my field of crickets. Even more, I realized this was not something that was just going to go away by itself, and it could get worse. But there are still options available.©
- Niagara Hearing & Speech Clinic
- Linwell Medical Plaza
- 282 Linwell Road, Suite 112
- St. Catharines ON L2N 6N5