Understanding Tinnitus in Seniors

tinnitus in seniors

Have you noticed that it’s tough to hear your television lately? Maybe you find yourself turning up the volume to levels you didn’t need a few years ago? Or does it seem like you have to ask the grandkids to repeat themselves? Does anyone mention that you talk a bit louder than you used to?

If you’ve experienced any of these things, you’re not alone.

Age-related hearing loss is quite common. Known as presbycusis, this type of hearing loss is usually very gradual and can begin as early as someone’s 30s or 40s. High-frequency sounds, such as speech, are the first to cause trouble, according to MedlinePlus. Over time, a person starts to notice that sounds at other frequencies are troublesome as well, and may develop difficulty hearing where a sound is coming from. Some might experience ringing in the ears as well as issues with balance.

Any issues with balance should be met with a dedication to fall prevention. A personal emergency response solution from Alert1 is a great way to alleviate any concerns about balance issues or falling.

For some, hearing loss can become severe. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly 25% of seniors over the age of 65 and 50% of elderly adults over the age of 75 have hearing loss severe enough to be considered disabling.

But there is another hearing problem that doesn’t make the news nearly as often. Have you noticed strange sounds that seem to come from within your ears and not from the world around you? Maybe it’s a swishing, a roaring, a ringing, or even something similar to music. That’s called tinnitus.

What is Tinnitus?

The American Tinnitus Association defines tinnitus as “the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present.” Though it is often known as “ringing in the ears,” it can be much more than that. Tinnitus can be described as buzzing, hissing, whooshing, or even a clicking sound. The sound can be high-pitched or low-pitched and can happen in one ear or in both[1]. Acute tinnitus is temporary and likely affects everyone at some point; chronic tinnitus is a different issue, as it is a sound that never truly goes away.

About 24% of those aged 65 and older experience tinnitus. More than 50 million Americans experience tinnitus, according to the CDC. And among those individuals, 20 million have chronic tinnitus, and two million have tinnitus so severe as to be debilitating[2].

Some learn to live with it, especially if it is very quiet and doesn’t interfere with day-to-day life. In this case, you might hear the sound when a room is very quiet, such as when you’re falling asleep. But for some, the sounds become so loud that they are intrusive and difficult to deal with.

To say internal sounds can be distracting is an understatement. That distraction can divide your attention and lead to other problems, such as missing a step as you come down the stairs or missing a curb when you are out and about. The resulting fall can leave you feeling confused, disoriented, and injured. Having a mobile medical alert wireless system at your fingertips can help ensure that you can get help right away, no matter what the situation. An on-the-go model from Alert1, especially one with fall detection, can provide you with strong peace of mind as you navigate tinnitus.

Where Does Tinnitus Come From?

Tinnitus can be a puzzling condition. One day you’re fine, hearing nothing at all unusual, and the next day the sounds begin. It’s impossible to know when tinnitus will end. What scientists do know is that in most cases, tinnitus is the result of something else going on in the body. It’s often a reaction to damage in the ear or the auditory system. But it can also be the result of hearing loss, middle ear obstructions, fluctuating hormones, heart and thyroid issues, the side effect of medication, or even the result of a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal[3]. Caffeine, emotional stress, alcohol, nicotine, and over-the-counter medications like aspirin or ibuprofen are also surprising reasons why tinnitus might develop[4].

It’s more common among the elderly. But it’s also more likely to occur among musicians, those who work in loud environments, or those who are active duty or retired military. Tinnitus is among the most common of the service-related disabilities for veterans, as it can often occur after exposure to bomb blasts. Tinnitus is especially common among those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan[5]. Today more than 2.5 million service members receive disability payments as a result of tinnitus[6].

In many cases, it’s impossible to find a cause for the sound[7]. And that can be a problem for those who suffer from very loud or persistent tinnitus. In cases where the problem doesn’t get better, it can eventually lead to fatigue, concentration and memory problems, anxiety, and even depression. Chronic tinnitus can be a debilitating condition that makes it difficult or impossible to work, socialize, or go about your day-to-day life.

If you are suffering from even slight tinnitus, everything about your life can be affected. Not getting enough sleep or not getting restful sleep can lead to fatigue, which can lead to falls. Even if you are getting enough sleep, the constant burden of hearing noise all the time can lead to mental and emotional fatigue. By being proactive and choosing a medical alert pendant or watch right now, you can be rest assured that if your tinnitus gets worse or you deal with any other hearing problems, you don’t have to worry about getting fast help after a fall or other accident.

What Can I Do About Tinnitus?

If you’re suffering from tinnitus, the first thing to do is tell your primary care doctor. Even if you know the reasons why you are hearing the sounds – for example, you were a military service member who was close to a bomb blast and have had the sound in your ear ever since – there are probably treatments available that can help you reduce the sound or make your life more comfortable. Your primary care physician will rule out any physical cause, then likely refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.

Treatments can be wide-ranging and tailored to your situation. You might try a few different treatments before finding one that works well for you. Some treatments are quite simple and can be completed at home without much oversight from a physician, while others are more invasive. Here are some of the options:

·         Background noise. It might seem strange, but background noise can drown out tinnitus. Using an air conditioner, fan, white noise machine, or even running the television or radio in the background of your day-to-day life can help. You can also cue up sound-generating videos on YouTube or through smartphone apps.

·         Frequency-producing devices. These small devices are programmed by an audiologist to match the pitch of the tinnitus you’re suffering from. That neutralizes the sound and counteracts the problem. These are often known as “maskers[8].”

·         Hearing aids. If tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss, making it easier to hear can alleviate the tinnitus somewhat. Talk to your doctor about hearing aids that might help relieve the internal sound and make it easier to hear the rest of the world around you.

·         Medications. According to WebMD, some medications for anxiety and depression have been proven to combat tinnitus. Some steroid medications might help as well.

·         Cognitive behavioral therapy. Though talk therapy can’t necessarily get rid of the tinnitus, it can give you strategies to better live with the condition. It can help you fight against the anxiety and depression that can often come with long-term tinnitus. Relaxation techniques and sound therapies can also help.

·         Treatment for TMJ. Those who have trouble with their teeth and jaw, especially those who have issues with the temporomandibular joint, can have trouble with hearing as well. Since the ear and the jaw are so closely connected, sometimes treatment for TMJ can alleviate tinnitus.

·         Surgery. Your doctor will do a thorough examination when you come in with a hearing problem. If they find a cyst, tumor, or other abnormal growth, removing it could reduce or eliminate the tinnitus. Though this is rather rare, it is a very good idea to get checked out for these problems, just in case.

How to Prevent Tinnitus

If you don’t have tinnitus, that’s great! There are ways to keep your hearing in better shape, no matter how old you are. One of the best ways to protect yourself from tinnitus or hearing loss is to use hearing protection when you are in a noisy area. That means wearing specialized earplugs when attending a loud concert, using ear protection when on a job site or factory floor, or avoiding loud sounds like gunfire, heavy machinery, power tools, motorcycles, and the like.

Sometimes things you wouldn’t expect can cause tinnitus, even those things in the medical field that are necessary to diagnose other conditions. For instance, you should always wear earplugs and headphones when in an MRI machine.

If you suffer from tinnitus or hearing loss, you are at a greater risk of falls[9]. Remember that hearing problems, including tinnitus, might sneak up on you. To protect yourself from the increased fall risk, a medical alert system with fall detection is an excellent idea. Alert1 Medical Alert Systems offers peace of mind for anyone with hearing concerns.