Senior Center

When Tinnitus Becomes a Ringing Problem

By Christina2 - March 17, 2014

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Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, can be one of the most frustrating and bothersome problems a senior can experience, as it affects that demographic the most. While other ailments like arthritis and poor eyesight are widely known, with remedies easily available, tinnitus isn’t treatable by any medication.

What is Tinnitus?

It’s important to note that no actual sound is present when a senior hears ringing in their ears, and the sound itself can’t be measured because it’s a subjective experience (most of the time). And contrary to popular belief, tinnitus doesn’t always present itself as a ringing sound, but can also be heard as a roar, whoosh, hum, hiss, tick, click, insects (crickets or locusts), high-pitched whine, or buzz.

The most common cause of tinnitus is it’s an offshoot of the same causes that are responsible for other hearing disorders, although some cases can be head injuries, compacted earwax, excessive loud noise, or metabolic or psychiatric disorders, to name a few. Seniors who have tinnitus usually also have hearing loss, although this doesn’t happen all the time.

How Can Tinnitus be Cured?

In a short answer, it can’t. If a senior experiences tinnitus, they should see their doctor for a full hearing exam to rule out any other possible causes. Once that’s been done and tinnitus is definitively the case, the senior and doctor can work together to try and lessen the tinnitus, although the former needs to remember that there is no cure.

There are two possible pathophysiologic causes of tinnitus: damage to the receptor cells, or death of ear hair cells. However, diagnosing one or the other still won’t do anything to remove tinnitus, only possibly give the senior an idea of what’s causing it.

Instead, treatment rests on managing the tinnitus, with activities like trying to relax blood pressure, hearing aids, tinnitus maskers, sound therapy, or medical assistance to help problems caused by tinnitus (e.g. melatonin for lack of sleep). As said before, there’s no cure for it, although seniors have found that Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT, or “talk therapy”) can be effective as it “trains” them to ignore the tinnitus and continue to go about their daily lives.

Statistics for Those Affected

A research paper published on looked at seniors specifically when it comes to tinnitus, and they found interesting results that may not necessarily apply to the general population:

  • 65% of seniors surveyed avoid noisy situations
  • 65% of seniors couldn’t relax and stayed tense
  • 60% of seniors reported feeling tense
  • 55% felt irritation over the tinnitus
  • 50% became depressed because of the tinnitus
  • More than two-thirds (70%) were frustrated at tinnitus’ presence
  • It’s not a big surprise that tinnitus has such a strong effect on seniors, as the constant presence of noise in their ears can be annoying at best and debilitating at worst. Another study found that how bad the tinnitus was and how much it interfered with life (i.e. with pain) had to do with how plastic the brain was. The study also mentioned an experimental form of therapy called Vagus Nerve Stimulation, although it’s too early to say if it will work or not.