What is Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a condition in which you hear a ringing, buzzing, or other sound in your ears. The noise can be intermittent or constant and may vary in pitch from high to low.
Tinnitus symptoms can vary from person to person. Some people with tinnitus report hearing a constant phantom noise that is often loud and distracting. Others describe it as a sporadic sound that comes and goes at various times during the day. Some people with tinnitus find the noise helps them fall asleep while others find it makes it virtually impossible to sleep.
|What is Tinnitus|
The severity of your tinnitus will depend on how much damage has occurred in your cochlea, the area of your inner ear that contains hair cells that turn sound vibrations into electrical signals your brain can understand. If all of the hair cells are dead or dying, then you may be able to hear only a faint “hum” or “ringing” in one ear — similar to the sound of waves lapping at the shore — which becomes more noticeable when quiet surroundings are interrupted by sudden noises (such as clapping).
What Causes Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by many different factors including:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises
- A single exposure to a very loud noise such as an explosion
- Excess ear wax
- Middle ear infections
- Head or neck injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Age-related hearing loss
- Ménière’s disease – a condition that also causes hearing loss and vertigo
- Otosclerosis – a condition in which there’s abnormal bone growth inside the ear
- Hypertension or high blood pressure
- Atherosclerosis or a narrowing of arteries
- an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism)
- Paget’s disease – A condition that interferes with your body’s normal recycling process, in which new bone tissue gradually replaces old bone tissue
- Acoustic neuroma – a non-cancerous tumor that grows on the balance and hearing nerves
- Some chemotherapy medications
- Some antibiotics
- Some non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Aspirin if taken at very high doses.
How is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
When you visit your doctor for the first time, they will likely do a physical exam and ask questions such as:
- Do you hear noises in both or just one ear?
- Are the noises constant or intermittent?
- Is the noise pulsating or a constant tone?
- Is the noise a ringing, clicking, buzzing, or whistling sound?
Your doctor may refer you to an ear specialist (an otolaryngologist) if he or she thinks you have tinnitus. If your doctor doesn’t think your tinnitus is caused by anything serious, he or she may recommend lifestyle changes such as avoiding loud noises and using earplugs when you go to concerts and other loud events.
Tinnitus can be tested by performing an audiogram test or hearing test with an audiologist or ENT physician who specializes in the assessment of these disorders.
If your doctor thinks your tinnitus is caused by something more serious, he or she may recommend tests such as:
- Blood tests: These are done to check for conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes; these conditions can cause tinnitus.
- Otoacoustic emissions test: This test checks for problems in the inner ear that could be causing tinnitus
- CT or MRI imaging tests depending on the suspected cause.
If you have an underlying condition that causes your tinnitus, treating that condition may end up helping your symptoms.
The treatments listed below can help with some types of tinnitus:
- Treatments for excessive earwax: Ear wax softens naturally over time and drains out on its own when it reaches a certain point. If you don’t want to wait for this process to happen naturally (or if there’s too much buildup that makes it difficult for the earwax to drain out), ask your doctor about ways to remove it yourself.
- Treatments for infections and tumors in the ear: Infections and tumors can often be treated using antibiotics or surgery, respectively. Your doctor may also recommend surgery if there are other complications that are contributing to your symptoms (for example, fluid buildup). In addition to any specific treatment done on top of this type of issue—such as removal of fluid from around nerves or surgical repair—it’s important not only recover fully from the infection itself but also avoid re-exposure by keeping good hygiene practices (washing hands frequently) and avoiding situations where one might come down with another illness like colds/flu etcetera).
- Surgery or medication may be used to treat tinnitus caused by blood vessel conditions.
- If your tinnitus is caused by age related hearing loss or exposure to loud noises, hearing aids often reduce or eliminate tinnitus.
- If your tinnitus is a side effect of a medication you are taking, using an alternative medication may resolve the problem.
- Masking devices. Worn in the ear and similar to hearing aids, these devices produce a continuous, low-level white noise that suppresses tinnitus symptoms.
- White noise machines which produce either static or environmental noises can be particularly if your tinnitus causes sleeping problems.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). TRT combines counseling and sound therapy to help train your brain to ignore the sound in your ear.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help you learn coping methods to reduce the negative impacts of tinnitus.
- Although medications can’t cure tinnitus your doctor may prescribe drugs to reduce the severity of your symptoms.
- Some tinnitus sufferers claim alternative therapies such as vitamin supplements or acupuncture have helped improve their condition.
Tinnitus and Mental Health Disorders
Although it’s not clear exactly how tinnitus and PTSD are related, there is some evidence that suggests a link. One study looked at veterans who had been diagnosed with both tinnitus and PTSD, finding that those who also had hearing loss were more likely to have PTSD. The researchers hypothesized that there could be an association between these two conditions because they both involve auditory processing problems in the brain.
A number of studies have also shown that people with depression are more likely to report having tinnitus than those who aren’t depressed. In addition to this connection between the two conditions, one research group found that patients treated for depression were more likely than untreated patients to experience improvements in their tinnitus after treatment (Archives of Internal Medicine). Tinnitus appears to be more prevalent among people who suffer from anxiety disorders as well; another research group found higher rates among those with generalized anxiety disorder (JAMA Psychiatry).
Why Many Veterans Suffer from Tinnitus?
The reason many veterans suffer from tinnitus is because they were regularly exposed to loud noises while serving in the military. Veterans have a higher risk of head and neck injuries, traumatic brain injury (TBI), injury to the ear, and diseases of the ear.
While deployed, veterans are at higher risk of developing diseases of the ear that cause tinnitus such as acoustic trauma or otosclerosis. Acoustic trauma occurs when there is damage inside your ears after exposure to loud noises for an extended period, such as explosions or gunfire blasts during combat missions. Otosclerosis causes abnormal bone growth within your middle ear that can result in hearing loss and tinnitus.
Claiming a VA Disability for Service Connected Tinnitus
To get a VA disability claim approved, you will need to prove that your tinnitus is service connected. There are two ways to do this. The first is by establishing a nexus between the tinnitus and military service, using your service records and other evidence. The second way is by medical documentation that shows when you first showed symptoms of tinnitus and whether or not those symptoms were caused by exposure to loud noises while in service.
There are several types of evidence that can be used when attempting to establish a nexus between tinnitus and military service:
- Your military service records can be used as proof of exposure during active duty periods or training exercises .
- Your medical history from before or after active duty may show signs of noise damage .
- Statements from family members or friends who were there with you at the time can also prove that you were around loud sounds on deployment . * Testimony given by doctors who diagnosed tinnitus early on (before discharge) can help establish causation if they say when it started in relation to when the soldier was exposed.* Expert medical opinions showing how a soldier’s case affects their ability to hear sounds.* An expert report showing that sudden hearing loss could only have occurred in one event such as being exposed too long without protection from loud noises like gunfire or explosives before leaving active duty
Veterans who suffer from tinnitus should be aware that it can be considered a service-connected disability for certain conditions. The VA has established lists of medical conditions that are considered inherently disabling, so a veteran will not have to show that the condition was caused by military service in order to receive VA benefits. If your tinnitus falls into one of these categories and you are currently receiving compensation from the VA, you should contact an attorney who specializes in veterans disability law and discuss how they might be able to help you obtain additional compensation.