If you’re suffering from tinnitus, you’ve likely tried to describe it to loved ones, but only you know how it sounds and impacts your life. Symptoms differ by individual, so even if you know someone else with tinnitus, your experience is unique to you.
The sounds have been described as ringing, buzzing, humming, roaring, chirping, whistling, whooshing, hissing, pulsing, or clicking. The perceived sounds can be soft or loud, low pitched or high pitched, impact one or both ears, and can be highly troubling or mildly annoying. Some people hear more complex sounds that fluctuate over a short or long period of time.
of individuals with severe tinnitus also experience symptoms of depression.
For many individuals, sounds are most bothersome in a quiet environment and when they aren’t concentrating on other activities. Therefore, it’s not surprising that if you have tinnitus, you may find symptoms more troubling when you’re trying to fall asleep or reading a book. On the other hand, some individuals say their tinnitus is just as loud or worse in the presence of external sounds or noise. Symptoms can vary based on the type of tinnitus. In somatic or somatosensory tinnitus (ST), the individual’s perception of tinnitus symptoms is altered by movements in their neck (cervical spine), jaw (temporomandibular area), or head.
people with tinnitus experience hyperacusis.
The presence of other physical and emotional symptoms can provide clues to underlying causes and the type of tinnitus. For example, tinnitus symptoms that fluctuate are a key diagnostic criteria for ST, the subtype influenced by cervical spine or temporomandibular movement or dysfunctions. Other issues that cause fluctuations in tinnitus symptoms include stress, anxiety, and physical activities. Research suggests that people with Meniere’s disease more commonly experience loud sounds, annoyance, depression, and sleep issues than individuals with tinnitus caused by other conditions.
A 2019 study on 6,115 participants found the presence of the following co-occurring symptoms, in order of prevalence:
Emotional or Behavioural Symptoms
In this same group, 4,250 participants (69.5%) reported daily fluctuations of tinnitus symptoms, while 2,732 (44.7%) experienced fleeting episodes at least once a month.
Although statistics for depression weren’t specifically mentioned in this study, the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) estimates that 48–78% of individuals with severe tinnitus also experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, or other behavioural disorders.
Some people with tinnitus experience hyperacusis, a physical or emotional intolerance or extreme sensitivity to sounds most listeners would find acceptable or tolerable. The ATA estimates that 12% of people with tinnitus also have hyperacusis. People with tinnitus and/or hyperacusis may experience functional symptoms such as:
Many people with tinnitus believe their diet can exacerbate or reduce symptoms, however, research on this relationship is limited. In a survey of 1,788 tinnitus patients from 53 countries, 23% of participants reported using dietary supplements to treat tinnitus. About 81% indicated that supplements were ineffective or made their symptoms worse. For many years, people with tinnitus were advised to avoid drinks containing caffeine such as coffee, tea, soda, or energy drinks. It was believed that caffeine’s stimulatory effects on the central nervous system and potential interaction with auditory processing could worsen tinnitus symptoms.
Although some healthcare professionals recommend nutritional supplements and/or caffeine or salt restriction to ease symptoms, a systematic review of studies yielded a lack of evidence supporting these interventions. The study concluded that although diet is important for overall health and can help lower the risk of many serious diseases, it is ineffective for easing tinnitus symptoms.
If you experience symptoms of tinnitus, it’s important to visit a licensed hearing care professional as soon as possible. In some cases, accurate diagnosis and treatment of an underlying condition can result in complete or partial resolution of troubling symptoms. Even if your tinnitus is idiopathic (no underlying cause), a variety of treatment methods can help improve symptoms and your quality of life.
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