Tinnitus – or ringing in the ears – is experienced by more than 50 million Americans (as estimated by the American Tinnitus Association).
Studies suggest that, like many hearing issues, it becomes more common with age and can be the first sign of age-related hearing loss. For many, it’s a minor annoyance. For others, it can be a persistent cause of discomfort.
Despite the breadth of people affected, there is still a lapse in information and preventative techniques, and there remains no cure for chronic tinnitus. What we do know, however, is that some factors can worsen its effects and that there are measures to provide relief and help us to manage it. Acute tinnitus may also go away once an underlying condition is treated.
What is Tinnitus?
For those who experience it, tinnitus is a straightforward phenomenon to explain to others. It’s a persistent ringing in the ears. Its pitch and the sound it makes – it can be more of a hissing, clicking, roaring, or buzzing – changes on a person-to-person basis.
Many will experience it temporarily after exposure to loud sounds – think of the day following a concert or party. If you’ve been close to a set of speakers for an extended time, you’ll likely have some ringing. This is acute tinnitus.
The difference is that the ringing ultimately doesn’t go away for chronic sufferers. Its underlying source isn’t a result of external sound in the ears. It is in the brain’s networks of cells, and there is still no exact scientific consensus on why it occurs.
It’s also important to note that tinnitus is often a symptom of an underlying condition and not a condition itself. Sometimes, it will go away once the root cause is addressed. This usually happens when tinnitus is caused by medication or another medical issue that can be resolved.
If you’re experiencing tinnitus, an evaluation by a hearing professional can assess if this is the case.
Causes of Tinnitus
Other than hearing loss, other causes include age, heart disease – which can create a pulsating effect – ear and sinus infections, blockages, hormonal changes in women, and thyroid abnormalities. As mentioned, some drugs will also cause tinnitus as a side effect.
What Factors Make Tinnitus Worse?
These are just some factors that can worsen ringing in the ears – aside from exposure to loud noises.
Hearing loss, in general, becomes more common with age, resulting in chronic tinnitus in many people. It will not always worsen. However, people often report an increase in severity over time.
Time of day
Studies have also shown that tinnitus appears louder during the night and early morning hours. This may be since, at these times, there is generally less noise and distractions to help take our minds off it.
Stress can be a contributing factor towards worsening tinnitus, but what’s interesting, according to the British Tinnitus Association, is our reaction to tinnitus may be affected by how we react to stress in general.
Many who experience chronic tinnitus tend to respond to it neutrally. Others can experience a cycle of stress, where negative thoughts and hopelessness in response to tinnitus can lead to us focusing on its intensity. In this respect, it may reduce our overall mental well-being.
Anxiety and Depression
Tinnitus is more common in those with anxiety and depression. Those with anxiety tend to inflate threats to their well-being or perceive issues where there are none. Simply looking at tinnitus as a life-changing problem may cause us to fixate on it further. Depression can also result in us losing focus, drawing our attention towards tinnitus.
High Blood Pressure/Heart Disease
Tinnitus is not just the result of psychological concerns. Issues like high blood pressure and heart disease can increase the intensity of tinnitus. It’s a complaint in 44% of people who experience arterial hypertension and is thought to relate to the many tiny blood vessels of the ears. Tinnitus can also increase with alcohol consumption, as it raises your blood pressure.
What Treatments are there Ringing in the Ears that Worsens?
There is no known cure for chronic tinnitus, but many treatments are available. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can assist with various psychological issues, including how we react to tinnitus. Tinnitus counseling can educate us further on the condition, advising us on ways of coping with it.
There is also tinnitus retraining therapy, a sound therapy that uses both psychological conditioning and therapeutic devices. Technology exists that may help to mask the sounds of tinnitus as well.
If you’ve noticed that your tinnitus is worsening over time, it’s time to get a hearing test and evaluation from El Dorado Hearing. They’ll help to identify the factors contributing to the issue and point you in the direction of further assistance and treatment.