About 15 percent of American adults experience ringing in the ears, known as tinnitus. Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disorder on its own. While experts are not sure what exactly causes the ringing, it is often linked to hearing loss and exposure to noise.
Relationship to Hearing Loss
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, of the 50 million Americans experiencing tinnitus, 90 percent of them also have hearing loss. Tinnitus usually follows the specific pattern of your unique hearing loss. For those who have trouble hearing high frequencies, their tinnitus will usually be a high-pitched ringing or hissing sound. When hearing loss is only in one ear, the tinnitus usually is, too.
How the Ear Works
Soundwaves from your environment enter your ear and travel until they reach the inner ear, where hair cells in the cochlea convert the vibration into an electrical impulse. These impulses are then sent via the auditory nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as sound.
Aging, exposure to noise and illness can damage these hair cells, causing hearing loss. When your brain starts getting less auditory information, it tries to compensate by becoming more sensitive; this process is known as raising the gain. This explains why some people with tinnitus may be more sensitive to loud noises.
Noise-Induced Hearing Loss
Loud noises can damage both the hair cells in the inner ear and the auditory nerve responsible for carrying the information for the brain. This is known as noise-induced hearing loss.
A ringing in the ear is common following a loud event such as a concert. A 2011 study followed 14 amateur rock musicians who frequently reported short-term tinnitus immediately following band practice. The researchers found that their tinnitus was also accompanied by hearing loss.
While tinnitus is more common in those over the age of 60, experts don’t often see age-related tinnitus that is not related to noise exposure.
Protecting Your Hearing
Even without knowing exactly why, audiologist agree that exposure to noise can lead to both hearing loss and tinnitus.
If you can, avoid exposure to loud noises. Lifestyle changes and smart choices can help keep you safe. If exposure to loud noises is unavoidable, wearing hearing protection is key. Over-the-counter earplugs work in a pinch, but custom-fit earplugs made from a mold of your ear are best if you spend significant time around loud noise.
To learn more about how to protect yourself from hearing loss and tinnitus, contact the experts at Valley Audiology today.