What’s That Sound? It Could Be Tinnitus

Do you regularly hear buzzing or ringing in your ears? If so, you may have tinnitus…. and you’re not alone.

Tinnitus (pronounced tin-ni-tus) is a fancy word for “noise in the ears,” which is typically a ringing or buzzing.  According to the Veterans Administration (VA), tinnitus is the number one service-connected health condition reported by veterans.1

Tinnitus affects over 1.4 million veterans and each individual’s experience is unique.2 Some may experience a high-pitched tone that rings in the ears or head while others hear clicking, hissing, swishing, chirping, or buzzing. Each sound can come and go and the volume can vary from person to person and can change over time. Tinnitus is a chronic, debilitating condition that can be maddening and difficult to cope with.

Tinnitus is not the same for everyone and its cause is often not identifiable. However, exposure to loud noises such as machinery, engines, gunfire or explosions during military service are typically the culprit among veterans. These loud noises can also cause hearing damage which explains why 90% of individuals with tinnitus have some level of hearing loss.1

Tinnitus can occur suddenly or gradually. Sudden tinnitus is often noticed immediately because most people describe the persistent noise as fairly loud. For others, the sound can remain the same for years or it can come and go – and sometimes may eventually disappear. However, exposure to loud noise can retrigger and even increase the severity of symptoms. In many cases, signs of tinnitus can gradually worsen until the sound is constant and even permanent.

It’s essential to protect your hearing. Below are some tips you can follow to help prevent tinnitus or mitigate its severity:

  • Avoid noisy places (music venues, construction sites, public transportation, etc.), when possible.
  • Use earplugs, noise-canceling headphones or canal caps when around excessive noise. ANY form of hearing protection is better than none.
  • Keep the volume on the stereo or TV low. Get hearing aids or use noise-canceling headphones so that you may hear at reasonable volumes.

Although researchers are still looking for a cure for tinnitus, one of the most common misconceptions is that there is nothing that can be done to manage the symptoms. There are a variety of ways tinnitus can be treated to either lessen the symptoms or make them more tolerable. The quicker you find treatment, the better. Tinnitus can lead to sleep difficulties, concentration problems, communication difficulties, stress and anxiety. For veterans, it may even compound other existing issues such as hearing loss or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Managing symptoms can help avoid or lessen these issues, but finding the right solution can take time. New techniques and alternatives are being researched and developed all the time. Treatments include concentration and relaxation techniques, using hearing aids with tinnitus-masking effects, white noise machines or pillows, medications and sound and behavioral therapy—just to name a few! Even something as simple as adjusting your sleep patterns or your diet may make a difference.  Keep experimenting until you find what works best for you.

To learn more about tinnitus and treatments, visit our Solutions page.

1 U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Benefits Administration Annual Benefits Report FY 2015, retrieved from benefits.va.gov/REPORTS/abr/ABR-ALL_SECTIONS-FY15-12122016.pdf.

2  U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, VA Research on Hearing Loss, retrieved from https://www.research.va.gov/pubs/docs/va_factsheets/HearingLoss.pdf

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