If you are one of the millions of people in the U.S. dealing with a medical condition called tinnitus then you probably know that it often gets worse when you are attempting to fall asleep. But why should this be? The buzzing or ringing in one or both ears is not an actual noise but a complication of a medical problem like hearing loss, either permanent or temporary. But none of that information can give a reason why this ringing becomes louder during the night.
The truth is more common sense than you might think. But first, we need to learn a little more about this all-too-common disorder.
Tinnitus, what is it?
For the majority of individuals, tinnitus isn’t an actual sound, but this fact just adds to the confusion. It’s a noise no one else is able to hear. It sounds like air-raid sirens are ringing in your ears but the person sleeping right near you can’t hear it at all.
Tinnitus is an indication that something is wrong, not a condition by itself. It is generally associated with substantial hearing loss. For many, tinnitus is the first sign they get that their hearing is at risk. Individuals with hearing loss frequently don’t notice their condition until the tinnitus symptoms start because it develops so slowly. Your hearing is changing if you begin to hear these sounds, and they’re alerting you of those changes.
What causes tinnitus?
Presently medical scientists and doctors are still unsure of exactly what causes tinnitus. It could be a symptom of numerous medical problems including damage to the inner ear. There are very small hair cells inside of your ears that move in response to sound. Tinnitus often means there’s damage to those hair cells, enough to keep them from delivering electrical signals to the brain. These electrical messages are how the brain translates sound into something it can clearly comprehend like a car horn or someone speaking.
The absence of sound is the basis of the current hypothesis. Your brain will start to compensate for information that it’s not getting because of hearing loss. It tries to compensate for sound that it’s not getting.
When it comes to tinnitus, that would explain some things. Why it can be caused by so many medical conditions, like age-related hearing loss, high blood pressure, and concussions, for starters. It also tells you something about why the ringing gets worse at night for some individuals.
Why does tinnitus get louder at night?
Unless you are significantly deaf, your ear picks up some sounds during the day whether you know it or not. It hears very faintly the music or the TV playing somewhere close by. At the very least, you hear your own voice, but that all goes quiet during the night when you try to fall asleep.
All of a sudden, the brain becomes confused as it listens for sound to process. It only knows one response when faced with complete silence – generate noise even if it’s not real. Sensory deprivation has been shown to trigger hallucinations as the brain tries to insert information, like auditory input, into a place where there isn’t any.
In other words, it’s too quiet at night so your tinnitus seems louder. Producing sound may be the remedy for individuals who can’t sleep because of that aggravating ringing in the ear.
How to create noise at night
A fan running is frequently enough to decrease tinnitus symptoms for many individuals. Just the sound of the motor is enough to reduce the ringing.
But you can also buy devices that are exclusively made to reduce tinnitus sounds. Natural sounds, like ocean waves or rain, are generated by these “white noise machines”. The soft noise calms the tinnitus but isn’t distracting enough to keep you awake like keeping the TV on may do. Your smartphone also has the ability to download apps that will play calming sounds.
What else can worsen tinnitus symptoms?
Lack of sound isn’t the only thing that can cause an increase in your tinnitus. Too much alcohol before bed can contribute to more severe tinnitus symptoms. Other things, including high blood pressure and stress can also contribute to your symptoms. Give us a call for an appointment if these suggestions aren’t helping or if you’re feeling dizzy when your tinnitus symptoms are active.