A Moment of Science

Tinnitus

You possibly already know that hearing loss affects millions of Americans every year, but did you know that hearing "gain" is also a widespread problem?

Man Plugging Ears

Photo: avantard (flickr)

Tinnitus is often caused by exposure to loud noise, so it is best to limit your time in excessively noisy environments.

You possibly already know that hearing loss affects millions of Americans every year, but did you know that hearing “gain” is also a widespread problem?

After attending a rock concert, mowing the lawn or other exposure to loud noise, it is common to experience a ringing sound in the ears. In most cases, this sensation lasts for only a few minutes, but when the condition does not improve or dissipate over time, audiologists call it tinnitus.

According to researchers at the American Academy of Audiology, forty to fifty million people in the United States experience prolonged tinnitus, and for as many as 2.5 million of them, the excess noise they hear interferes with their quality of life. The condition comes in two types.

Nonvibratory tinnitus is caused by damage to the nerves associated with hearing. Scientists don’t really know what causes the false perception of sound in these patients, but some relate it to the way an amputee continues to feel sensation from an amputated limb.

The other type, vibratory tinnitus, is physical rather than neurological, produced by muscle spasms near the ear or vascular problems in the face or neck. In some rare cases, a doctor can actually hear a sound coming out of these patients’ ears.

Tinnitus is often caused by exposure to loud noise, so it is best to limit your time in excessively noisy environments. If you experience temporary tinnitus, this is a warning signal from your ears that damage is being done. To reduce your risk of permanent tinnitus, consider wearing ear protection around loud sounds, and turn down those headphones!

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