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Friday, May 24, 2013
People tend to spend more time outdoors in the summer, and their exposure to loud noise increases. Whether the noise is from powerboats, firecrackers, lawnmowers or motorcycles, people should take precautions to protect their ears. Otherwise, they are at risk for hearing loss and tinnitus.
Tinnitus (perception of sound in the ears) affects most people at some point in their lives and is often due to hearing loss or the result of exposure to loud noises. Other causes include stress, ear-damaging drugs, ear infections, brain or head injury, and a brain or inner ear tumor. The brain has the ability to change itself to adapt to various situations, and tinnitus may be one way the brain adapts to hearing loss (although we are not certain why).
It's important for people to realize they can help minimize tinnitus and hearing loss caused by loud noise. The cochlear hair cells in your ears can be damaged when listening to loud music or working around loud equipment (such as lawnmowers) for prolonged periods of time, which can lead to hearing loss.
Protecting your hearing can be as simple as turning the music down and wearing ear plugs when mowing, attending concerts, working with machinery, or when engaged in other loud activities.
The American Tinnitus Association estimates that 50 million Americans have tinnitus. For most it is temporary; however, for 12 million people it can disrupt their lives.
Most of the time, when patients seek treatment, they have severe tinnitus. Their quality of life is affected - the noise they hear in their ears disrupts their sleep, and they have trouble concentrating and focusing on work.
Tinnitus is usually (but not always) a subjective noise, and people often describe it as "ringing in the ears." Patients also describe hearing noises like crickets, whooshing, pulsing and buzzing, among others.
Many patients with tinnitus get frustrated because they may have been told to just live with the noise. They feel like they can't do anything. There are things that can be done for tinnitus, but they are not quick fixes.
Many patients with tinnitus are most affected when it's quiet around them, such as when they are trying to sleep. Tinnitus sufferers need something pleasant to distract their mind. Some examples are listening to the radio during the day and 'white noise' at night, like an air conditioner, fan, a radio on static, etc.
Other treatments for tinnitus include:
Other treatments include acupuncture and hypnosis. While it's unclear how effective these activities are, they promote relaxation, which is key in helping people reduce the severity of tinnitus.
Reducing stress and increasing relaxation are probably the most important things people can do for tinnitus. It can be difficult, and it takes patience, but it's one of the best ways to control the condition.
This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (5/16/06), a service of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.
Last Reviewed: Jul 14, 2008
Ravi N Samy, MD, FACS
Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, Director of Skull Base Surgery Fellowship, Director of Adults Cochlear Implantation Program
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati