NOV 21, 2017 5:39 AM PST

Tinnitus and the Deafening Silence

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

When you're on the subway, at the gym, or walking down the street, do you always have headphones hooked to your ear? The flood of new media content and the rise of personal audio devices have made it impossibly easy to always be tuned in. But the cost to this constant stimulation may be your hearing.

Tinnitus is hearing sound without any actual external sound stimulation. Most often, the unexplained sound is described as a ringing, but it could also be a whistling, buzzing, chirping, or humming. We've probably all experienced tinnitus at one point or another, after exposure to extremely loud noises like a fire alarm or a music concert. For most people, the tinnitus is acute because the loud stimulus is temporary. However, with prolonged exposure to extremely loud sounds, the auditory nerves can sustain permanent damage, leading to chronic tinnitus.

Before brushing off tinnitus as a trivial ringing in the ear, let's consider this: cells in the auditory system do not regenerate, so people with chronic tinnitus may never again experience silence. For some, this inescapable noise is debilitating.

The World Health Organization estimates that over 43 million young people between the ages of 12-35 live with debilitating hearing loss. That number is on the rise, and the WHO estimates over 1 billion people are at risk. The cause is likely to be excess noise stimulation via personal audio devices.

Hopefully these hearing statistics will convince you to let your ears take a break from the headphones once in a while, or at least dial down the volume a few notches!
About the Author
I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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