How does tinnitus affect me?
The effects of tinnitus vary, depending on the severity of your symptoms. Some individuals are able to ignore their tinnitus for the most part, while for others, the symptoms become so pronounced that they disrupt sleep and negatively impact daily life. If you are experiencing symptoms associated with tinnitus, it is important to consult a physician or hearing professional as soon as possible.
What hearing damage causes tinnitus?
There are tiny hair cells within the ear that are responsible for converting sounds into signals for the brain. When these cells are damaged, the amount of signals sent to the brain decrease. Researches think that the brain may try to compensate for these missing signals by creating a new sound in their place—hence the ringing sensation associated with tinnitus.
There are many factors that lead to this damage including aging, sudden impact noises, and exposure to loud sounds.
However, this explanation does not explain why some individuals with no hearing damage can also experience tinnitus, which means the cause of tinnitus may not be solely due to hearing damage, but also to brain processes.
What causes tinnitus and how does it affect me?
Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom of underlying conditions.
There are many possible causes of tinnitus, including damage to the auditory system, side effects of medication, injuries to the head or neck, and undiagnosed medical conditions.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a sensation of noise or ringing that is only heard by you. Some people experience this annoying sensation occasionally, while it is a constant struggle for others.
Tinnitus can have many negative effects on your day-to-day life, resulting in side effects including loss of sleep, anxiety, stress, and anger. There are a variety of causes including medications, medical conditions, and damage to the auditory system. Over 80% of individuals dealing with the symptoms of tinnitus also suffer from varying levels of hearing loss.
In some cases, tinnitus can be treated with hearing aids which can alleviate or reduce this sensation.
What are the symptoms of hearing loss?
Oftentimes the first sign of hearing loss is having difficulty understanding speech or carrying on a conversation in a crowded place. A common sign you are experiencing hearing loss is the need to ask the person you are speaking with to repeat themselves because you cannot understand what they are saying.
Similarly, those suffering from early hearing loss often find it difficult to understand what young people are saying, feeling that they are speaking too quickly and not articulating properly.
Another common sign, that we are all familiar with, is the need to keep the television volume at an unreasonably high volume in order to understand what is being said on your favorite program.
How does the auditory system work?
There are many components that make up the auditory system, which gives us the incredible ability to connect with the world around us through sound. The auditory system is quite complex, made up of four key components including the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the brain. These systems work together to produce our sense of hearing, however damage to any one of these parts can lead to hearing loss, which is experienced by one in six Americans.
The four components, listed above, work together in the process detailed below, which results in our ability to hear and process sound.
1. The Outer Ear This is the part of the ear that we can all see. The cartilage folds and shape of the outer ear are designed to capture soundwaves, taking them through the auditory canal to your ear drum.
2. The Middle Ear The air-filled middle ear is made up of the ear drum and three small bones—the malleus, incus, and stapes. These tiny bones work in conjunction with each other to move the sound waves through this cavity and into the inner ear where the cochlea will convert them to nerve impulses.
3. The Inner Ear This is where sound processing really begins as sound waves reach the cochlea and are transformed into electrical impulses that are sent on to your brain.
4. The Brain As these nerve impulses reach the brain you are able to process and make sense of them. Unfortunately, this process can become confusing and frustrating for those experiencing hearing loss, as the brain tries to make sense of these sounds, which may seem unclear or muddled.
What are the risks of not treating hearing loss?
The ability to hear has a strong impact on your cognitive health.
Your cognitive health depends on staying engaged and connected with the world around you, and treating your hearing loss with hearing aids allows you to do just this—keeping your brain fit and active as you age.
Left untreated, hearing loss can lead to cognitive decline, as you isolate yourself from the world both mentally and socially.
In turn, untreated hearing loss can result in social withdrawal as conversation becomes difficult. This loss of interaction with the outside world can result in feelings of isolation and depression, as you no longer feel connected with the friends and family that make life special.
Why is hearing important?
The ability to hear is a critical component of both your physical and mental wellbeing, and the quality of your life can be affected more than you might think by hearing loss.
Hearing is key in day-to-day interactions, supplying you with important information that keeps you socially active, mentally engaged, and physically safe.
The ability to hear keeps you socially active, and—in turn—engaged with the world around you, as you chat with friends, listen to your grandchildren, and interact with family members. The ability to communicate clearly and effectively with loved ones keeps you socially active—no matter what your age!
Hearing also keeps you mentally engaged, connecting you with the world around you. In addition to keeping you mentally sharp, your ability to hear is also critical to your emotional health and memory, as sound can trigger memories, stir emotions, and further connect you to both your past and present.
Last, but not least, the ability to hear keeps you physically safe as you age by enabling you to hear sounds that alert you to danger such as intruders, fire alarms, or emergency sirens.