Tinnitus is a common hearing-related phenomenon that affects about 15–20% of adults.
It is the primary health issue for veterans returning from active duty. Tinnitus is a condition that can have a number of underlying causes. In most cases, no cause is ever found for a patient’s tinnitus. Some people are unbothered by their tinnitus. Others find it mildly irritating, and some people are debilitated by it.
What Is Tinnitus?
Most people experience tinnitus as a “ringing in the ears.” It may sound like a single sine wave, like a “pure tone” you would hear during a hearing test. Some people experience other types of phantom sounds, such as:
- Screeching (like a chainsaw)
Tinnitus may be always present, or it may come and go. For many people, tinnitus occurs at a low enough level that they don’t even notice it during the day, but may have trouble sleeping when there is little or no external noise present and their tinnitus becomes the main sound they hear.
Can Tinnitus Be Prevented?
There are a few types of tinnitus that can be prevented. For example, tinnitus that accompanies noise-induced hearing loss is completely preventable through the use of hearing protection and avoiding loud noise whenever possible. Keeping the volume low on personal listening devices can help prevent tinnitus.
There is also evidence to suggest that good cardiovascular health can reduce the effects of or prevent the onset of tinnitus. You can promote good cardiovascular health by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep.
Avoid alcohol, caffeine and nicotine. These substances, especially when used excessively, alter the body’s blood flow and can contribute not only to tinnitus but also to hearing loss.
Causes of Tinnitus
William Shatner famously started to experience tinnitus after an accidental pyrotechnic explosion on the set of Star Trek. He has said since then that “masking” is the only way he gets any relief from his tinnitus.
Masking is accomplished simply by introducing other sound into the environment, or in headphones, to cover up the sound of your tinnitus. This is why people with minimal tinnitus can go through the day without even noticing it, except in moments of extreme quietness.
Try turning on a box fan, or employ a YouTube video of ocean sounds. Smartphone apps are available that play relaxing sounds on a loop.
If masking is insufficient to help you deal with your tinnitus, meditation programs have been used to great effect by some. The idea here is to learn to experience your tinnitus not as an enemy but as a companion. Adjusting to living with tinnitus can be really effective in reducing the anxiety, depression and frustration that tinnitus can sometimes bring.