Tinnitus is the perception of noise in the ears or head when no external noise is present.  It is often pronounced two ways and either can be correct:  Ti-NIGHT-us or TINN-a-tus.  Although it is often referred to simply as “ringing in the ears,” it can have multiple presentations depending on the person.  Here are some other ways that tinnitus has been described:

  • Whistling
  • Crackling
  • Popping
  • Humming
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Swooshing
  • Clicking
  • Chirping

What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus varies from person to person and there is no single cause of it.  Tinnitus is often referred to as a symptom of a related cause or trigger. It is important for someone experiencing tinnitus to see their hearing care provider for proper testing and evaluation, possible diagnosis of the other issue(s), and possible treatment of that issue or the tinnitus itself.  Some possible underlying issues of tinnitus include:

Hearing Loss & Other Audiological Comorbidities:

It is common for patients to have both hearing loss and tinnitus simultaneously.  Meniere’s Disease can affect hearing and balance and the majority of patients also experience tinnitus.  Hyperacusis can be experienced by some patients and is an extreme sensitivity to noise and tinnitus can also be accompanied to this. Misophonia (selective sound sensitivity) and phonophobia (fearful reactions to loud sounds) are also associated with tinnitus.

Obstructions of the Middle Ear:

Excessive ear wax, head congestion, dirt or foreign objects in the ear canal are all examples of issues that may cause tinnitus.  Often, if removed or solved, the tinnitus will be alleviated.  Other times these issues cause permanent damage and the tinnitus may remain.

Ototoxic Drugs or Medications:

Tinnitus can be a side-effect of many prescription medications and recreational drugs.  This symptom usually only lasts while taking these drugs.  Examples include but are certainly not limited to:  certain antibiotics, cancer medications, water pills, and diuretics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

Other Causes Include:

  • Metabolic Disorders
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Vestibular disorders
  • Thyroid problems
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Blood vessel disorders
  • Psychiatric disorders
  • Vestibular disorders
  • Thyroid problems

What testing is involved to evaluate tinnitus?

Trained audiologists can evaluate patients suffering from tinnitus with the following clinical tools:

Comprehensive audiological evaluation:

  • Speech recognition test
  • Pure tone audiogram
  • Tympanogram
  • Acoustic reflex testing
  • Otoacoustic emissions testing
  • Tinnitus sound matching
  • Minimum masking level
  • Loudness discomfort level
Other evaluations exist for the subjective aspects of tinnitus a patient is experiencing.

Who is most likely to be affected by tinnitus?

Nearly one in six Americans experience tinnitus, according
to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
Different populations of people are more susceptible to acquire tinnitus including the following:

  • Males (more likely to be in loud professions and recreational activities)
  • Older generations (more likely to have age-related and noise-induced hearing loss)
  • Caucasians (no known reason)
  • Active military personnel and veterans
  • Musicians and music lovers
  • Motorsports and hunting enthusiasts
  • Patients with prior behavioral health issues (depression, anxiety, etc)

How does tinnitus impact patients every day?

Tinnitus varies so greatly between patients (and can even vary day by day for each individual).  Some describe it as ‘easily ignored’ and others as ‘completely debilitating’.  Other experiences that tinnitus can cause include:

  • Distress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Poor concentration
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Social isolation
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Is there a cure or treatment for tinnitus?

Currently, there is no proven cure for tinnitus.  The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) reports that all current treatments are made to lower the negative effects of tinnitus.  The ATA lists hearing aids as a treatment option and that sixty percent experience relief with this option.  Sound therapy such as tinnitus maskers (which can be a part of hearing aids or separate) are also common to help lessen the perception of tinnitus.  Other ways of managing tinnitus include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (short term sessions using cognitive restructuring and relaxation)
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (individual counseling and sound therapy)
  • Stress management
  • Others (evaluating general health issues such as diet, physical activity, sleep, and stress level)

What resources are available?