What Causes Ringing in Your Ears as You Age?
Ringing in your ears, also known as tinnitus, is a common problem that can affect people of all ages. Tinnitus occurs when you hear phantom noises, which don’t come from an external source. These symptoms are often indicative of an underlying condition. In younger people, tinnitus is often linked to exposure to loud noises, while in older people, it can be associated with a much more diverse range of causes. This guide will examine what causes ringing in the ears as you age.
A brief overview of tinnitus
Tinnitus is commonly known as ringing in the ears, but it can actually cause you to hear an array of different sounds, including humming, buzzing, whooshing and hissing noises. Studies suggest that tinnitus affects around 15% of the population, but it is more common in older people. Often, symptoms of tinnitus are fleeting, especially when linked to exposure to high levels of noise. However, some people suffer from chronic tinnitus or bouts of severe symptoms, which can be debilitating.
What causes tinnitus as you age?
In younger people, the vast majority of cases of tinnitus are caused by either short or long-term exposure to loud noises. If you’ve been to watch a band play, for example, it’s common to experience ringing in the ears afterward. In this scenario, most people find that their symptoms subside within a few hours. In older people, there are several possible causes of tinnitus, including:
- Long-term exposure to high noise levels: loud noises damage the fragile structures located within the inner ear. Over the course of time, the effects of prolonged exposure to loud noise can take their toll, increasing the risk of both tinnitus and hearing loss. Many older people suffer from ringing in the ears as a result of years of working in noisy environments. Today, employers are very careful to provide hearing protection for employees, but health and safety regulations haven’t always been as stringent. If you worked on a construction site, or you had a job as a sound engineer, for example, you’re likely to be at risk of hearing loss and tinnitus.
- Medication: some types of medication are linked to an elevated risk of tinnitus. If you start taking a drug, and you find that it’s causing you to experience ringing in the ears, it may be possible to switch to another medication to eliminate side-effects. If you stop taking the drug, you should find that tinnitus symptoms disperse. Examples of types of medication that can cause tinnitus include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
- Underlying health issues: there are multiple health issues and conditions that can increase the risk of tinnitus in older people. Examples include hypertension (high blood pressure), allergies, injuries that affect the head and neck, and tumors.
- Hearing loss: the risk of hearing loss increases as you get older. While hearing loss may not cause tinnitus directly, it can often exacerbate the symptoms. This is because hearing loss creates a void, which makes the phantom sounds more noticeable. If you can’t hear external sounds, your brain will focus entirely on the noises that you can hear, and this makes it very difficult to switch off, especially at night.
When to seek help for tinnitus
Tinnitus is not a disease in itself, but it is often symptomatic of an underlying cause. While many cases of tinnitus in younger people are linked to temporary exposure to high noise levels, in older people, there is often a more significant cause. If you’re struggling with your hearing, your tinnitus symptoms have got worse recently, or tinnitus has started to impact your daily life or your mental wellbeing, it’s a good idea to seek advice from an audiologist.
When you see an audiologist, they will ask you some questions about your symptoms to get an idea of how frequently you suffer from tinnitus, and how severe the signs are. They will also check your medical history and ask you about your health in general. The primary aim is to determine the cause of tinnitus. Your audiologist may recommend some tests and examinations, which will provide an insight into what is causing you to experience tinnitus. In some cases, there may be a relatively simple solution, for example, changing medication or treating or managing high blood pressure or an allergy. If hearing loss is detected, wearing hearing aids is likely to improve your hearing and reduce the severity of tinnitus symptoms.
If you have any questions about tinnitus, or you’re struggling with day to day life because of ringing in your ears, don’t hesitate to seek advice. Our friendly, experienced team of audiologists is here to help. Call Hinderliter Hearing Services at 248-430-8425 today.