Is Your Tinnitus Stemming From Your Environment?

Worried man listening to a ringing in his ear. Tinnitus concept

Tinnitus is an incredibly common condition of the ear. Some estimates suggest that 10 percent of people experience tinnitus at one time or another, making it one of the most common health conditions in the world. The condition manifests as a sound in the ear that isn’t really there–usually it’s a buzzing or ringing, but tinnitus can take the form of other sounds as well.

While the prevalence of tinnitus may be evident, the causes are often more opaque. In part, that’s because tinnitus may result from a wide range of causes–some of which are temporary. Other causes tend to produce more permanent symptoms.

That’s why your environment can be critically important. After all, every environment has a soundscape–and when that soundscape is noisy, you may be causing damage to your ears. This environmental tinnitus may sometimes be permanent or it may sometimes respond to changes to make your environment quieter. So, can your environment cause tinnitus?

What is tinnitus (and why is it so common)?

Tinnitus is a condition in which you hear a sound that isn’t really there. For most people, tinnitus manifests as a buzzing or ringing, but it may also present as thumping, humming, screeching, or other sounds as well. Usually the sounds are consistent or rhythmic. For most people, tinnitus will occur over a short period of time before resolving itself and going away. In less common cases, tinnitus may become effectively permanent, a condition referred to as chronic tinnitus.

Tinnitus is so common for several reasons. The first is that the environmental factors that contribute to tinnitus are also relatively common (more on that in a bit). The second reason is that tinnitus is often a symptom of an underlying condition or injury. In other words, there are many such injuries or conditions that can cause tinnitus. As a result, tinnitus tends to be quite common.

How can the environment impact tinnitus?

There are a wide variety of factors that can contribute to tinnitus symptoms, including ototoxic chemicals and medications. However, when most people talk about “environment” in terms of tinnitus, they really mean the noise. For example, some neighborhoods are noisier than others (traffic noise in some areas can get exceptionally high). Likewise, anyone who works around industrial equipment all day would be at risk of their environment exacerbating their tinnitus.

These environmental factors can be exceptionally important when considering your hearing health.

As with hearing loss, noise-related damage can eventually cause tinnitus symptoms. In these cases, the resulting tinnitus tends to be chronic in nature. Some of the most common noise and environment-related causes of tinnitus include the following:

  • Music: Many people will often listen to their music at high volumes. Doing this on a consistent basis can often result in tinnitus symptoms.
  • Traffic: Traffic in densely populated areas can be much louder than you might expect it to be. (And noise damage can occur at a lower volume than you might expect.) Long commutes or consistent driving in these loud environments can eventually cause hearing damage, including tinnitus.
  • Noise in the workplace: Many workplaces–including offices–are often the source of loud noises. Whether it’s industrial equipment or chatty office neighbors, spending eight hours a day around constant workplace noise can eventually lead to tinnitus.
  • Events: Tinnitus can sometimes result from loud noises, even if they aren’t experienced over a long duration. For example, attending a concert or using firearms can both result in tinnitus if the volumes reach a high enough level.

Damage to the ears can occur at a much lower volume than people generally expect. As a result, it’s important to wear hearing protection before you think you may need it. Hearing protection can help prevent tinnitus symptoms from developing in the first place.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

So, does tinnitus go away? Well, in some cases it might. In other cases, your symptoms may be permanent. There’s no way to know which is which at the outset. Likewise, just because your tinnitus has gone away for now doesn’t mean that noise damage has not occurred, leading to an increased risk of chronic tinnitus in the future.

One of the most significant contributing factors to the development of tinnitus is that people tend to underestimate the volume at which damage occurs to your ears. (If you experience tinnitus, your body is telling you that damage has already likely occurred.) This means that there are several things that you should do to change your environment so as to prevent more permanent damage.

For example, you could try:

  • Decreasing the volume of your environment where possible. For example, you could close the windows if you live in a noisy area or turn off industrial machinery that is not in use.
  • Limiting the amount of time you spend in noisy environments without giving your ears a chance to recover.
  • Wearing hearing protection (either earplugs or earmuffs) in order to prevent damage. Noise canceling headphones can also be an asset in this regard.

How to handle your symptoms

Many people who experience chronic tinnitus find the symptoms to be enormously distracting and uncomfortable. As a result, they often ask: how do you calm tinnitus?

If you hear a buzzing or ringing sound, it’s important to see a hearing specialist about it–especially if the sound doesn’t go away. A hearing specialist will be able to assess your symptoms and determine how best to manage them. There’s no cure for most forms of chronic tinnitus. Symptom management may include the following:

  • Masking device: This device is a lot like a hearing aid–only instead of amplifying sounds, it masks them. Your device will be specifically calibrated to mask your tinnitus symptoms.
  • White noise devices: Using a white noise device around your home can help you tune out your tinnitus in some cases.
  • Relaxation techniques: High blood pressure has sometimes been linked to an increase in the severity of tinnitus symptoms. So taking some time to relax (with meditation, for example) can sometimes help diminish your tinnitus symptoms.
  • Hearing aid: This can help amplify other sounds and, as a result, drown out the ringing or buzzing created by your hearing aid.
  • Retraining therapy: In some cases, you can work with a specialist to retrain your ears, slowly changing the way you process sound. This can help you manage (and learn how to ignore) your tinnitus symptoms.

There’s no cure for tinnitus. That’s why managing your environment to protect your hearing is a great first step.

But tinnitus can be managed and treated. A hearing specialist will be able to develop a specific treatment plan based on your hearing, your tinnitus, and your lifestyle. For some, managing your tinnitus may simply mean using a white noise machine. For others, management may be more intense.

Find a hearing specialist near you

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