If you can’t hear the sound of silence it may be tinnitus

“In addition to being exposed to some really loud noise over the last four days, I’ve also been sick with a cold and I’m pretty stressed out over a couple of unrelated things,” wrote a drummer and concert goer as he complained about a high-pitched ringing in his ear.

The condition is called tinnitus. We all get it once in a while. Some people get it for much, much longer periods, and others always have it. Pronounced either tin-NY-tis or TIN-u-tus it’s not a disease. It’s a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system that includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the ear to the brain and the parts of the brain that processes sound.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) says that although it’s usually described as a ringing in the ear, tinnitus can also sound like roaring, clicking, hissing or buzzing.

“It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched. You might hear it in either one or both ears. Roughly 10 percent of the adult population of the United States has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year,” NIDCD says.

“Something as simple as a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can cause tinnitus. But it can also be the result of a number of health conditions, such as noise-induced hearing loss; ear and sinus infections; diseases of the heart or blood vessels; Meniere’s disease, brain tumors, hormonal changes in women, thyroid abnormalities.

“Tinnitus is sometimes the first sign of hearing loss in older people. It can also be a side effect of medications. More than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when your start or stop taking them,” NIDC explains.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association adds that migraine headaches, stress, anemia, too much coffee and smoking cigarettes can also cause tinnitus. No wonder so many of us get it from time to time.

There isn’t a “cure” for tinnitus. For the most part, it will go away on its own. If it doesn’t, a trip to your healthcare provider will determine if you need to see an otolaryngologist (aka ear, nose and throat doctor). He or she may be able to offer specific ideas for getting rid of the noise.

The American Academy of Otolaryngology explains, “Some patients with hearing loss and tinnitus have a modest improvement in coping with the tinnitus using hearing aids with or without built-in ear-level maskers. Sound therapies that involve simple things like background music or noise or specialized ear level maskers may be a reasonable treatment option.

“The effects of tinnitus on quality of life may be improved by a course of counseling with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which usually involves a series of weekly sessions led by a trained professional.”

They say that if the tinnitus is so bothersome that it causes extreme anxiety or depression, treatment by a psychiatrist or psychologist may be warranted. And, they say that claims for dietary supplements, which are frequently advertised, have not been proven to be beneficial. They do say that some people have had some success with acupuncture although there haven’t been enough studies to prove its effectiveness.

Their tips for lessening the impact of tinnitus are to avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises. They advise you to keep your blood pressure under control, exercise each day and to get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.

They also recommend you “use physical (sound machine) and mental techniques to push the perception of the tinnitus to the background; the more you think about the tinnitus, the louder it will seem.”

So what can you do to prevent it? The NIDCD answers:

“Noise-induced hearing loss is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. Anything you can do to limit your exposure to loud noise, by moving away from the sound, turning down the volume, or wearing earplugs or earmuffs, will help prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse.”

Kathy Hubbard is a member of Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.