What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a medical condition characterized by persistent noise in one or both ears that is perceived when no external noise source is present. It is typically only heard by the affected individual and is often described as a ringing, whistling, hissing, buzzing, or pulsing sound in the ear. It is not a disease but a symptom of an underlying malfunction somewhere along the auditory pathway. These sounds may come and go, but some people experience symptoms 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The American Tinnitus Association estimates that over 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus. Only 16 million are bothered by it enough to seek treatment and up to 2 million are so debilitated by it that they cannot function on a day-to-day basis.
Causes of Tinnitus
The exact physiological cause of tinnitus is unknown, however there are fairly consistent triggers that can lead to the onset of tinnitus including: noise exposure – one of the most common and can cause permanent hearing loss as well; medications; hearing loss; foods; trauma; stress; head and neck injuries; and diseases or health problems. Research on the origin and the search for a cure is ongoing.
Are Some People at Greater Risk for Tinnitus?
Tinnitus does not discriminate but it does tend to occur more frequently in the elderly or men with noise-induced hearing loss. A particular segment of the population that is notably impacted by both hearing loss and tinnitus are military veterans. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, tinnitus is the number one service-connected disability for veterans from all periods of service with hearing loss ranking second.
Is There a Cure?
Presently there is no cure for tinnitus. It is important to know however, that all hope is not lost! There are a number of effective treatment options that can manage and provide relief from tinnitus. A very large percentage of people who suffer from tinnitus associated with hearing loss find effective relief from their tinnitus by wearing appropriately adjusted hearing aids.
There are many dietary supplements that claim to provide tinnitus relief, most commonly gingko biloba, zinc, melatonin, and lipoflavonoids. Because of the category of supplements, they do not fall under FDA scrutiny and manufacturers can claim what they choose. Please know that NONE OF THESE SUPPLEMENTS DEMONSTRATE REPLICABLE EFFICACY AND IN FACT, MAY ACTUALLY POSE POTENTIAL HARM, ESPECIALLY IN THE ELDERLY.
Neurophysiologists at the University of Connecticut (UConn) have discovered a new drug that may prevent tinnitus and treat epilepsy by selectively affecting potassium channels in the brain. More work in that area still needs to be completed and before the drug is released, it will need to meet FDA standards.