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What is Tinnitus?

Woman sitting at window with coffeeIf you have ever experienced an aggravating high-pitched ringing or buzzing in your ear then you know what tinnitus is, and how it can negatively impact your quality of life. When it comes to understanding this condition there are several factors that are essential to consider as it relates to effective management and finding the appropriate treatment options. Tinnitus (pronounced “tin-night-us”) is a condition involving dysfunction within the auditory mechanisms of the ear that produce an abnormal high-pitched ringing sound.

Tinnitus Symptoms

Tinnitus symptoms vary from patient to patient. Often when patients are trying to understand this condition it is difficult to identify consistent patterns to their experience and words to describe what exactly they are hearing. The most common of the tinnitus symptoms is the high-pitched ringing in the ears that occurs either constantly or intermittently. In severe cases this is a constant annoyance and results in loss of sleep, difficulty concentrating, and progressive hearing loss. Other Individuals experience a “buzzing,” “running water,” or “radio static” noise in one or both ears.

Often tinnitus symptoms are noticed gradually and intermittently at first but increase in frequency as the condition progresses. Tinnitus symptoms are also included with other conditions such as Meniere’s Disease, migraine headaches, and damage to the ear drum or other organs of hearing. In order to determine the most effective treatment for this condition a proper understanding of the underlying mechanisms is essential, and a multi-disciplinary approach seems to be most effective. Many patients find that understanding the cause of their symptoms is confusing because many healthcare providers are unfamiliar with solutions for this multi-faceted condition. Plus, it is often difficult to reach a diagnosis based solely on the subjective complaint of the patient.

Tinnitus causes are related to a breakdown in either noise conduction or nerve conduction. Tinnitus is often related to progressive hearing loss, which has its root in a breakdown in nerve conduction from the ear to the brain. In short, although the sounds are traveling through the ear appropriately, interference to the conduction of nerve impulses results in an abnormal hearing process producing the sound of ringing when there is no vibration at the eardrum to produce it.

Loud noise exposure can damage the tiny hair cells of the inner ear producing tinnitus and progressive hearing loss. Noise exposure compounds over time, so occupational exposure is a major cause of this condition when adequate hearing protection is not used. This is the primary cause of this condition as it relates to noise conduction. Conditions such as Otosclerosis may also be a genetic factor contributing to decreased noise conduction and this condition.

Some tinnitus causes are related to dietary or chemical factors. For example, a low sodium and low caffeine diet is recommended for patients experiencing this condition in Meniere’s Disease. This is thought to reduce inflammation and improve nerve conduction as it relates to hearing and this condition.

Often times, patients experiencing tinnitus have a history of cervical spine trauma including whiplash, concussion, or sports injury. Irritation to the sensitive nerve structures of the head and neck in these circumstances are likely to produce several negative side effects including tinnitus, vertigo, headaches, etc. This is an often-overlooked cause and may delay necessary treatment and maximal recovery.

Many individuals trying to figure out what do to about their tinnitus symptoms will consult with a primary care physician to rule out tumor, aneurysm, or more threatening causes of tinnitus. Once these have been ruled out, they are often left without answers. An audiologist will perform a detailed audiogram to measure ranges of hearing loss and may prescribe a hearing aid. This testing can also determine if you have Otosclerosis or other genetic factors causing this condition.

Individuals who do not stand to benefit from a hearing aid are left with fewer options, most of which are focused on drowning out the ringing in the ears. White noise machines may be used to distract you from this condition at night, and many simply cannot fall asleep without the television or other background noise playing. These are obviously palliative measures and not curative.

Tinnitus presents differently in different populations, and often has different causes. In adults, tinnitus is caused by noise exposure or whiplash. To consider what caused this condition for you, consider the following:

  • Have you experienced a whiplash in the past 10 years?
  • Have you ever experienced a concussion or head trauma with or without loss of consciousness?
  • Do you have repeated loud noise exposure?

If you have experienced one or both of the first two causes, the cause of your tinnitus may be rooted in the cervical spine (neck). If you experience loud noise exposure, consult with an audiologist.

In children, this condition may accompany ear infections. As the Eustachian Tube accumulates fluid, the conduction and pressure of the ear may change resulting in tinnitus and ear pain. Post-concussion syndrome is a hot topic in youth contact sports. This condition is a common side effect of a concussion and is often accompanied by vertigo, headaches, fatigue, and mood changes. It is essential that the cervical spine be rehabilitated in the case of post-concussion syndrome for maximal recovery and safe return to play.

Blair Chiropractic and Tinnitus

From a chiropractic perspective, there are certain structural issues that may underlie tinnitus. The upper cervical spine is in close proximity to sensitive nerve and vascular structures of the head and neck that may produce tinnitus when irritated. The mechanics of the upper cervical spine can become disrupted with jars, jolts, and other injuries. Over time, the wear and tear associated with poor biomechanics produces local irritation, inflammation, and nerve interference. Tinnitus is a common side effect of upper cervical spinal issues and should be considered in a comprehensive plan of care.

To determine if an Upper Cervical Misalignment is contributing to your tinnitus, a Blair Chiropractor will perform a series of diagnostic tests. Nerve testing, including paraspinal thermography helps to locate nerve interference and to measure changes during care. Advanced Upper Cervical 3D Imaging Analysis including X-ray, MRI, or CBCT may be used to determine the specific characteristics of head and neck misalignment. Information from these images will give the Blair Chiropractor the blueprint to restore the upper cervical alignment using the safest and most effective adjustment possible.

For individuals with tinnitus that meet the criteria for chiropractic management, an individualized treatment plan will be developed to correct the underlying structural displacements of the upper cervical spine. Blair Chiropractic treatment for tinnitus includes precision upper cervical adjusting and supportive recommendations to provide a comprehensive approach. To ensure safe and effective care, seek out a Blair Doctor.

Tinnitus Los Angeles CA | (213) 399-7772