More than 50 million Americans have experienced ringing in their ears, a condition called tinnitus, in their lifetime, according to a national health study performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tinnitus Awareness Week runs through Sunday and the speech and hearing department is offering informative material about how to diagnose, treat and prevent tinnitus, today, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the speech and hearing clinic.
“Tinnitus affects about 1 in 5 people,” Lilian Felipe, assistant professor of speech and hearing, said in an email interview. “Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself — it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.”
There are two kinds of tinnitus — subjective tinnitus is tinnitus only the affected person can hear, which is the most common type of tinnitus. Objective tinnitus is tinnitus a doctor can hear when they do an examination. This type of tinnitus is rare.
“Tinnitus can be triggered by a variety of different causes, and it varies dramatically from person to person,” Felipe said. “A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus. A common cause of tinnitus is inner ear cell damage. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers ear cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your auditory nerve to your brain.
“Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can ‘leak’ random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus. Every person living with tinnitus hears a unique sound. The sound can be a low or high frequency, and its volume and pitch may change over time, with the severity varying from person to person.
“Those with acute tinnitus may struggle to sleep, focus at work, or communicate with others. In such cases, treatment plays a crucial role in helping an individual regain control of his or her life.”
Felipe said that the first step toward tinnitus relief is scheduling a consultation with an audiologist.
For more information, contact the department of speech and hearing sciences at 880-8338.
Story by Olivia Malick, UP managing editor