Judson Haims: Noise-induced hearing loss is not tinnitus | AspenTimes.com

Judson Haims: Noise-induced hearing loss is not tinnitus

Judson Haims
Visiting Angels
Judson Haims
Courtesy photo

The noise in your ears often experienced after a loud concert or exposure to excessively loud sounds can cause a temporary condition called noise-induced hearing loss.

Although loud noise exposure may cause temporary hearing difficulty, it can also cause permanent and irreversible hearing loss as cells and membranes in the inner ear become damaged.

Sometimes, a ringing, buzzing or muffled hearing in the ear can also be a sign of the onset of a condition called tinnitus. Tinnitus can be both a temporary condition or a chronic ongoing health condition. Inexplicably, it is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present.

According to the National Institutes of Health, “It is a common problem for millions of people, as epidemiologic studies have reported its prevalence to be between 8(%) to 25.3% of the population of the United States.”

Frequently, as hearing loss occurs, higher pitched sounds are affected first. This causes difficulty hearing children and female voices along with the sounds made from consonants like, “f,” “s” and “th.” Additionally, hearing conversation(s) in environments with lots of background noise is often very difficult for people with hearing loss.

Understanding sounds and speech is a complex physiological process. Simplified, sound waves enter the ear canal and travel toward our eardrums. The sound waves cause the eardrum and bones in the middle ear to vibrate. Tiny hair cells inside the cochlea, the sensory organ of the ear, convert these vibrations into electric impulses that are picked up by the auditory nerve. The auditory nerve carries the electrical signal to the brain, which turns it into a sound that we recognize and understand.

Researchers believe that damage to these cells causes the brain to misinterpret the signals it receives, so it makes up a sound instead. This is called tinnitus. Unfortunately, once the hair cells in the inner ear are destroyed, they do not grow back.

There is no cure for tinnitus. However, there are some well-established treatment options to help reduce the burden of tinnitus. That being said, people who have tinnitus will be best served by tracking their own experience. Here are some therapies often used to address tinnitus:

Sound therapies: Sound therapies use external noise sources to augment a patient’s perception of, or reaction to, tinnitus. Often white noise, nature sounds, or other ambient and subtle sounds are used. These therapies mask and/or distract people’s awareness of the perceived sound(s) of tinnitus.

Drug and supplement therapies: There are no FDA-approved medications or supplements that have shown to be effective for tinnitus. Medications that are often used to address tinnitus treat behavioral conditions associated with the burden of tinnitus such as frustration, anger, stress, anxiety and depression. Such medications are antidepressants and antianxiety drugs.

Unfortunately, many companies claim that supplements such as gingko biloba, zinc, vitamin B12, melatonin and magnesium may be a remedy. These products may look tempting, but they’re not what they seem. Regrettably, many companies making such claims target a vulnerable target population.

Therapies in development: Tinnitus research, treatment and potential cure is an ongoing process. Therapies in development involve addressing the underlying conditions and not the condition itself. At this time, they only provide relief.

Some of the experimental therapies include Repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) and Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS). These treatments used electrical currents that are both noninvasive and invasive. While there is promising evidence these treatments work, they are not successful for everyone.

The World Health Organization’s Noise Guideline indicates that people should not be exposed to loud noises for excessive amounts of time. Noise above 85 decibels can cause damage. 

Those music concerts that you have attended, or will attend, can cause temporary and permanent hearing concerns. Concerts frequently have noise levels at or above 101 decibels. At this level, it is recommended that people are not exposed to more than 18.75 minutes.  You ever been to a concert for less than 20 minutes?

Your risk of developing tinnitus, or any hearing impediment, increases with exposure to loud noises. There is good reason people wear ear plugs. If you are curious as to what daily noises may cause hearing concerns, do a web search for “harmful decibel levels.”

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and available to answer questions. His contact information is VisitingAngels.com/comtns and 970-328-5526.

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