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Hearing Loss and Tinitus: The ringing, buzzing and hissing in the ears

Dr. Hilary Wisdom, Journal Advocate |  July 7, 2016

Copyright© 2016 Digital First Media

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As another Fourth of July has come and gone, many people were surrounded by loud music, watched and/or set off fireworks, mowed the lawn, went motor boating or participated in many other noisy outdoor activities that can be enjoyed during the summer time. Following these activities, many may also have experienced ringing, buzzing or hissing in their ears. After a few days, the ringing in the ears, which is also known as tinnitus, may have gone away or become less noticeable. However, what is happening when it doesn’t? What does it mean?

Tinnitus, which is the number one medical injury that is affecting our military troops, has also become more prevalent in the United States population. There has, and continues to be, significant research on tinnitus and its treatment. Let’s start with the ear itself. There are three parts to the ear: the outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear. The outer ear is the portion of the ear that you can see, where, for instance, you place ear buds or earphones on the ear to listen to music, podcasts or books on tape. The middle ear is made up of the eardrum and the smallest bones and muscles in your body. The inner ear includes the cochlea, or the snail-like structure, that houses tiny hair cells (10,000 in each ear) that sends the sounds we hear to our brain.

These hair cells are very sensitive to sound.

When a person is around loud sounds, such as close-range fireworks, music, or motorboats, to name a few, the hair cells become stressed. If the person, which, in turn, the hair cells are exposed to these sounds for too long, they start to become damaged. When they become damaged, a person’s hearing is impacted and one of the first signs can be tinnitus. What does this mean? If you experience tinnitus after a loud activity, it means your hearing has been impacted by the sounds.

The good news is that the hair cells can repair themselves to a certain degree. However, the more and more loud sounds that the hair cells receive on a daily basis, the less likely they are able to repair themselves. One way to continue to be around the loud sounds that you enjoy without damaging your ears is: (1) wearing earplugs or earmuffs in those environments to dampen the sound, (2) limiting the amount of time you spend participating per day and/or (3) standing further away from the loud sounds so that they are not as loud.

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