The “Why” of Tinnitus

If you’re experiencing a persistent ringing in the ears, you are not alone. About 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus. That translates to 20 percent of the population, making it one of the most common health complaints in Santa Barbara. We can’t call it a physical condition – it’s technically a symptom of another underlying problem – but regardless of its nomenclature, tinnitus is so bothersome to some, it affects nearly every aspect of their daily lives. In order to manage tinnitus, it’s important to understand why it occurs.

What Causes that Ringing in Your Ears?

collection of bells ringing

Most people with tinnitus in Santa Barbara describe it as a ringing in the ears, but tinnitus takes many forms. It may resemble a humming, buzzing, roaring, whooshing, whistling or clicking sound instead. Its severity varies from individual to individual; for some it’s an occasional nuisance, while others label it a constant distraction that significantly impacts their quality of life.

No two cases of tinnitus are identical because there is such a wide range of possible contributing factors, each of which can produce different symptoms. Sometimes, the exact cause can’t be determined. A partial list of common causes includes:

  • Hearing loss
  • Noise exposure
  • Head or neck trauma
  • Stress
  • Migraine headaches
  • Earwax buildup
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Benign tumors
  • Ototoxic medications
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Vascular diseases

Now that you know why tinnitus occurs, what can you do to find relief?

Managing Tinnitus Symptoms

There is currently no cure for tinnitus. That doesn’t mean that people who experience a ringing in the ears in Santa Barbara are doomed to a distraction-filled life! There are a number of steps you can take aimed at managing your symptoms so they don’t have such an extreme effect on your daily life.

Your Santa Barbara audiologist recommends the following strategies for combating tinnitus.

  • Acoustic therapy. Also known as “masking,” acoustic therapy utilizes background noise to shift your brain’s focus away from the distracting tinnitus sounds, helping to cover up or mask them. White noise devices, air conditioners, fans and humidifiers, can all be used.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy. Similar to acoustic therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy relies on a portable sound generator that emits soft patterned tones to help desensitize the brain, making your tinnitus less noticeable.
  • Hearing aids. Though not everybody with hearing loss has tinnitus, there is a lot of crossover between the two. For patients who wear hearing aids, simply turning up the volume to amplify speech and background noise reduces the contrast between tinnitus and silence, making that ringing in the ears much less distracting.
  • Counseling. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapies can be helpful in providing you with tips and strategies designed to reduce the stress, anxiety and sleeplessness that often accompany tinnitus.
  • Relaxation exercises. Meditation, self-hypnosis, deep breathing and other relaxation exercises can help reduce or eliminate stress and improve sleep – keys to feeling better and more productive.
  • Biofeedback. Biofeedback is a process in which you are connected to electrodes that measure your body’s involuntary response to tinnitus. Based on the results, you will be taught techniques to help control your reaction to tinnitus symptoms.
  • Alternative treatments. There are many alternative and natural approaches to treating tinnitus, though few have been proven scientifically effective. Still, plenty of people swear by hypnosis, acupuncture, naturopathy, herbal remedies, electrical stimulation and other therapies.
  • Diet and lifestyle changes. Reducing alcohol, caffeine and sodium consumption may decrease the severity of your tinnitus symptoms, though again, there is little scientific evidence that this works. Quitting smoking may also be helpful. If nothing else, these changes should help improve your overall health.

For more tips on living with tinnitus, have a talk with your Santa Barbara audiologist.

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