By Barry Keate
Barry Keate, has lived with tinnitus over 40 years and has published 150+ research articles on numerous aspects of tinnitus. He is an expert on the condition and a well-known advocate for those with tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a common hearing dysfunction, affecting approximately 15-20% of the population. While the diagnosis is the same, people experience the condition differently. This variability has given rise to certain myths about tinnitus, some of which can lead to discouraging or disheartening misconceptions about the outlook and treatment options for those with tinnitus.
Here are ten of the top myths about tinnitus and the truth behind them.
1. It’s all in your head.
There is nothing quite so frustrating as having an invisible medical condition. The people around you can’t hear the same sounds. They may assume your condition can’t be that bad or that you’re exaggerating. Nothing could be further from the truth. The ringing in your ears that you hear is a result of a physical condition – in many cases hearing loss. While there are different levels of severity, the constant sound can be maddening.
2. Tinnitus presents as a ringing in the ear only.
Descriptions of tinnitus sounds include rushing, ringing, humming, buzzing, sizzling, roaring, blowing, and whistling. You may even find that your tinnitus sounds different from one day to the next. You should report any sound that persists and is disruptive to your life to your doctor for evaluation.
3. Tinnitus only comes from listening to loud music.
Listening to music too loud does lead to hearing loss and tinnitus. But music isn’t the only loud noise that causes tinnitus. Working around loud machinery for long periods, firing guns, or working in demolition without proper ear protection can also lead to tinnitus. Likewise, physical trauma to the ear or jaw, infection, compacted ear wax, or adverse reactions to certain medications can all cause tinnitus.
4. Tinnitus worsens with time.
Symptoms vary depending on stress level and general health. Some days your tinnitus may be relatively quiet, while on others, it is quite loud. However, it doesn’t get progressively worse with time. In fact, there are treatments and lifestyle changes that can decrease its severity. Depending upon the cause, addressing the underlying cause can make symptoms disappear entirely.
5. Tinnitus always leads to hearing loss.
Tinnitus and hearing loss often present together. However, you can have hearing loss without tinnitus and tinnitus without hearing loss. Tinnitus may be a symptom a hearing-impaired person experiences, but there is no proof that tinnitus causes or worsens hearing loss.
6. Hearing aids can’t provide tinnitus relief.
Thankfully, this is false. There are hearing aids specifically designed for people who suffer from tinnitus. They can minimize background noise and make other sounds clearer when fitted properly. Amplifying important sounds and conversations can help people with tinnitus stay connected to friends and family.
7. Diet will cure tinnitus.
Improving the way you eat can lead to better health, even if switching your diet won’t cure your tinnitus. However, some foods may exacerbate your tinnitus symptoms. These ingredients negatively impact overall health, and here are some reasons why they affect your hearing.
- Salt- Sodium increases blood pressure and reduces blood flow to the cochlea, an essential inner ear component.
- Sugar Substitutes- Aspartame damages the part of the gut that tells your brain to put your fork down. It also excites your neurotransmitters, increasing electrical activity in the auditory cortex, which can increase tinnitus symptoms.
- Saturated and Trans Fats- Causes heart disease and will also restrict blood flow like sodium.
8. Medication can cure tinnitus.
As of today, no prescription medication has cured tinnitus. However, many people take concentrated ginkgo biloba for ear ringing, and there are vitamin supplements for tinnitus. They are not a cure but have lessened symptoms for many individuals. Take them consistently for three months to gauge their effect on your tinnitus.
9. Tinnitus is harmless.
Tinnitus by itself does not harm the body. However, there are two concerns.
- Tinnitus is often a symptom of another problem. The underlying problem could be dangerous, so it is vital to seek medical attention.
- Tinnitus causes severe anxiety and depression. People often feel isolated and may believe their suffering will never end. Severe depression is dangerous, leading people to destructive behaviors and even suicide.
It is essential to address both the underlying cause of tinnitus as well as the accompanying symptoms to help those with tinnitus to lead a full life.
10. Nothing helps tinnitus.
Fortunately, this is also false. Medical research is ongoing as they look for new solutions in the herbal and prescription markets. Ginkgo biloba and vitamin B12 have already proven effective in lessening the severity of symptoms. One day soon, we may have a cure. Until then, find the tools that help you cope and make the condition manageable.
As tinnitus severity is tied to stress levels, doing anything that lowers stress and takes the focus off the sound in your ears will also lessen symptoms. Whatever makes you happy and calm, spend more time in your happy place.
Maintaining your overall health is crucial so your body can heal what it can. Try to remain optimistic and active in things that interest you. Isolation leads to depression, while engaging with loved ones and participating in your favorite activities will distract you from your symptoms. And last but not least, don’t believe everything you hear about tinnitus. Check with your tinnitus expert if you ever have questions about your symptoms.