Tinnitus is Widespread yet Poorly Understood

Ear

A Condition more Common in Men than Women

At one time or another, just about every middle-aged man, and older, will experience a ringing in the ear(s) of some sort. It’s a common health concern after taking certain antibiotics or aspirin. Ringing in the ears also occurs after being exposed to a loud noise source for a period of time

For about one in five men over the age of 50, however, ringing in the ears doesn’t just occur as a result of overexposure to loud noise. It’s a problem 24/7/365, especially at night time.

Hundreds of millions of men and women around the world experience this constant and unrelenting hullabaloo in the ears that is known in the medical profession as tinnitus.

What is Tinnitus Exactly?

The term tinnitus comes from the Latin word tinnire, meaning to ring. People who have the condition hear ringing, buzzing, humming, or other kinds of constant noise all or most of the time, but tinnitus is not necessarily a condition that’s ‘all in your head’.It is possible to have extrinsic tinnitus, in which other people can hear the sounds, too.

This kind of tinnitus occurs during congestive heart failure and after injuries to the bones and joints in the face.

It is also possible to have subjective tinnitus, in which the sounds originate inside the body. This kind of tinnitus results from injury to the ear canal or atherosclerosis.

It’s a Condition, not a Sickness

Tinnitus is a health condition, not a disease. Usually it only is an issue after there is some kind of damage either to the ear, the brain, or the peripheral nervous system. What makes treating tinnitus as a symptom complicated is that different men can have tinnitus for entirely different reasons, and there are a lot of causes that can trigger the state.

Here are a few of the more common causes (in alphabetical order):

  • Aging, (especially after 50) makes tinnitus worse, probably because the brain is less “plastic” and less able to rewire itself to ignore sound.
  • Anxiety makes sounds seem louder.
  • Aspirin-induced tinnitus (also known as salicylate toxicity tinnitus) excites the neurons that carry impulses from the ears to the brain and also causes changes in the flow of fluids both in the Eustachian tubes of the ears and in the brain. Unlike most other drugs that can cause tinnitus and hearing loss, the effects of aspirin usually subside 2 or 3 days after it is stopped. If aspirin causes ringing in your ears just take Tylenol or Ibuprofen instead!
  • Aspartame (Nutrasweet), is an intense sweetener that can cause damage to the nerves that carry information about sound to the brain in people who, with a genetic predisposition, are sensitive to it. Most of the cases in which this common sweetener causes tinnitus also involve vertigo and difficulties hearing high pitches.
  • Bruxism, is the involuntary or habitual grinding of teeth (usually during sleep), and often appears concurrently with tinnitus. The grinding of teeth actually lowers the intensity of perceived sound.
  • Congestive heart failure, especially in men over 50, can cause tinnitus that is usually worse in the left ear.
  • Diabetes, in combination with hypertension and high cholesterol, often leads to events in the brain that interfere with circulation around the fourth cranial nerve. These conditions can aggravate tinnitus.
  • Discontinuation of antidepressants sometimes causes tinnitus, while depression treatment often relieves it.
  • Excessive noise damages outer ear fibers (which amplify sounds) before it damages inner ear fibers (which conduct messages to the brain). The brain starts making adjustments for low intensity of sound that result in amplification of everyday sounds to levels that cause tinnitus. These changes can become permanent if not medically treated within a few weeks after exposure to a loud sound.
  • High altitude exposure can cause a “vapor lock” in the ear canal that results in muffled hearing with noises from the joints in the face or the circulatory system. Chewing gum sometimes relieves this kind of tinnitus.
  • High blood pressure sometimes causes pulsatile tinnitus, a rhythmic beating sound that is most notable in the left ear. When pulsatile tinnitus occurs at night, often just rolling over is enough to stop the sound, but it is also essential to keep high blood pressure under control.
  • Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, fibromyalgia, and Lyme disease may cause tinnitus. Treating the underlying disease relieves this symptom.
  • Misalignment of the jaw can block ear canals and cause hypersensitivity to sound.
  • Relaxation of the neck muscles can aggravate tinnitus, while tension in the neck muscles relieves it. Neck pain, of course, presents its own problems.
  • Steroids generated by the body itself relieve tinnitus, but chronic use of steroid medications for asthma, inflammation, or autoimmune disease can weaken the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in ways that cause tinnitus.
  • Stress, especially social stress, can induce tinnitus.
  • Temperomandibular joint (TMJ) syndrome more often causes tinnitus in women, but can cause this problem in men.
  • Viagra (sildenafil) causes tinnitus in about 3% of men who use it.
  • Waxy build-up in the ear canal can train the brain to be super-sensitive to sound. When clogged ear canals are the cause of tinnitus, the symptom takes a long time to build up, but can also takes a long time to go away even after the ear canals are cleaned out.

There are other causes, but the ones mentioned here are the most common.

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Summary of Common Causes

As the list above shows, there are a lot of things that can cause tinnitus, but this only means that taking care of them gives a number of ways to make the condition better. And while no single treatment for tinnitus works all the time, there are some new and innovative treatments that work more often than not.

Here are a few of those treatments (in alphabetical order):

  • Antibiotics, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and tranquilizers are often prescribed for tinnitus, with mixed results.
  • Acupuncture often works for tinnitus. Its effects extend for about three months after the last treatment.
  • Depression treatments that work, almost always reduce tinnitus.
  • Ginkgo supplements (two capsules a day) are inexpensive and often help men over 60 deal with ringing in the ear. Don’t use ginkgo, however, if you take prescription anticoagulants/blood thinners.
  • Hearing aids help about 50% of men who have tinnitus. Usually men tell their audiologists something on the lines of “If I could just get this buzzing in my ears stopped, I could hear better,” but often the reality is the other way around.
  • Homeopathy may be helpful for tinnitus, but different men usually need different remedies. A trained homeopath can choose the right remedy to treat the full constellation of symptoms that may occur in addition to tinnitus. It’s always better to see a trained professional rather than take remedies at random, although some men respond to commercial “homeopathic tinnitus formulas.”
  • Low-intensity laser treatments of the ear canal, usually lasting about a minute, but repeated up to 20 times a day for 20 days, occasionally (about 20% of the time) results in complete cure, and usually (about another 50% of the time) results in significant reduction of symptoms.
  • Maskers are white noise generators that are worn in the ear like a hearing aid. They are most useful if they are used 24 hours a day. Feedback training uses maskers, but only in the context of stress reduction training in a psychologist’s office. Getting control over tinnitus with this method usually takes 1 to 2 years.
  • Melatonin supplements help men who have severe tinnitus sleep better. It’s essential to take melatonin only at bedtime, rather than during the day, to avoid drowsiness.
  • Niacin supplements are helpful to about 50% of men who take them. It’s important not to overdose, since taking more than 750 mg a day can cause reddening of the skin and aggravate rosacea. A daily 100 mg dose of niacin is not enough to have an effect on heart health (another, more popular application of the supplement), but it won’t cause side effects and should ease tinnitus.
  • Pillow speaker systems and white noise generators, even a radio turned on to low volume on a bedside table, can mask tinnitus to help tinnitus sufferers fall asleep. It’s not necessary completely to “drown out” the tinnitus to get enough relief to get sleep.
  • Simple hearing protection in noisy situations prevents tinnitus for men of all ages especially men who do target practice or who attend rock concerts.
  • Tinnitus Sound Therapy Using Customized Sound / Music – A Web-Based Neuromonics Alternative (see video in top left hand column)
  • Transcranial pulsatile magnetic stimulation, which is essentially a pulsating magnet worn as a headband, is safe although only occasionally effective. The upside of this kind of treatment is that men have nothing to lose by trying it.

Prevention is better than Cure

If you have not yet reached 60, probably the single most important thing you can do to avoid ringing in the ear is to make sure you wear hearing protection when you need it. Don’t work on a noisy shop floor without ear muffs. Don’t go to target practice without ear muffs or plugs. Even if hearing protection is inconvenient or uncomfortable (at least ear plugs are cheap), don’t skip it. Tinnitus is worse.

And you’re a man 60+, take good care of your brain. For most men, that starts with taking good care of your circulatory system, keeping cholesterol in check, and blood pressure within normal limits. You’ll not only reduce your risk of tinnitus but also extend your healthy life.

Remember, if left untreated, tinnitus has the potential to severely affect careers, lifestyle choices, and relationships. Fortunately today, there is more support around than there ever has been to help manage the condition. Watch the video below for a Doctor’s explanation on the condition and new treatments avaialble.

Understanding Tinnitus

If you would like to leave comments on this article, please do so at the bottom of this page.

BY ROBERT RISTER | 50ish Site Contributor
Robert Rister is a senior health writer here at 50ish.org

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Article Published and formatted by Andy Aitch – Webmaster of 50ish.org
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Readers Comments

    Dave says:

    “I did not write the piece. A medical author who “was” a site contributor wrote it.”

    That’s all that was required to the original post. I am still uncertain why my comment garners two responses from this site yet the original post did not.

    My original statements stands. Thank you for responding and finally solving this puzzle, at any rate.


    Vee Abbott says:

    I would like to know how you reached the conclusion that more men than women get Tinnitus. I’m a 76 year old female with Tinnitus, and one of 5 admins of a Tinnitus group, and there are just as many women as men if not more in that group. There is a 67 year old man who is totally deaf, and has Tinnitus with terrible spikes. As for Gingko supplements….I don’t know. just how many mg is good for the daily dose?


      Dave says:

      I’m sorry they did not answer you, I was curious too about some of tho data. It’s a shame websites put ambiguous information up followed by a comments section, and then don’t bother to answer the comments by the people they have lured. Remove your comments section if you are uninterested! Or I can just avoid this website.


        Andy Aitch says:

        Please note this is not a medial website run by medical professionals. Yes the articles have been written by an authority source, but they are published for information purposes only. Comments are there for others to leave feedback, suggestions, or share their own experiences. But the comments are not there as a kind of “ask the doctor” feature. There are special sites for that kind of thing. Hope that helps.


          Dave says:

          No, sir, it did not. My above statement stands. The previous poster asked a valid, polite question. It was not an “Ask The Doctor” question. You could have easily answered her as you did me.


            Andy Aitch says:

            Hi Dave,

            I don’t want to get into one of those online debates, but I will end with this. I’m not an authority on tinnitus or any other medical subject, so it’s unfair for me to comment. I did not write the piece. A medical author who “was” a site contributor wrote it. Like I said, all articles on the site are for “information purposes only,” as highlighted in the terms and conditions.

            If I answered all comments and questions on this site with a “Sorry, I don’t know, I’m not an authority on the subject” I would never get anything done. If an article is for “information purposes only” then people are more than welcome to contribute and have their say. But no one should expect to get answers to specific questions from articles that site contributors wrote some years back. I mean, who are they asking?

            That’s all I have to say on the subject for fear or sounding repetitious. Hope that helps.

            Best regards,

            Andy A



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