Have you ever experienced a “ringing in the ears?” You may actually suffer from tinnitus. The U.S. Center for Disease Control estimates there are over 50 million Americans (about 15-20% of the general public) who experience some form of tinnitus. Anyone can develop this symptom (even people with normal hearing) however, it is primarily caused by your environmental and behavioral factors. Certain demographics are of course more likely to develop tinnitus including people who suffer from hearing loss or other ear problems. But what exactly is tinnitus and how do you deal with it?

Types and Symptoms

While tinnitus is most commonly referred to as “ringing in the ear,” it is also described as the perception of noise in the ear because it can manifest as buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing or clicking sounds. There are two types of tinnitus – subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus can only be perceived by the patient. It can be caused by an array of catalysts (a thing that increases the rate of) however, it is usually traceable to hearing loss. Objective tinnitus can be heard by other people, including the patient. The sounds usually come from internal body functions like blood flow and musculoskeletal movement. More than 99% of all tinnitus cases are subjective, while less than 1% are objective.

In general, audiologists tend to describe a patient’s personal perception of tinnitus sound in three ways:

• Musical – very rare. The patient perceives music or singing, sometimes on a constant loop or in the same tune.

• Pulsatile – generally associated with objective and physical movement/touch (somatic) tinnitus. The patient perceives pulsing sounds, often in beat with the heartbeat.

• Tonal – generally associated with subjective tinnitus. The patient perceives overlapping or near-continuous sound with well-defined frequencies (volume often fluctuating).

Causes and Related Conditions

Typically, tinnitus is a hearing loss reaction in the brain as a result of damage to the ear and auditory system. While hearing loss is often associated with this symptom, there are many other health disorders that can cause tinnitus as a symptom. In many cases, the exact cause is never found. Below is a list of health issues most commonly associated with tinnitus (also occurring simultaneously):

• Hearing Loss – the primary catalyst for tinnitus symptoms. For many people, this usually happens around age 60.

• Medications – antibiotics, diuretics, pain medications, aspirin etc.

• Exposure to loud noises – this includes heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, portable music devices (if played loudly for long periods) and attending a concert.

• Ménière’s Disease –  a vestibular disorder in the inner ear that can affect hearing and balance.

• Hyperacusis – an abnormal, extreme sensitivity to noise including ordinary, everyday noises at normal volumes.

• Misophonia – an abnormal, negative emotional reaction to specific sounds. These reactions include extreme anger, disgust, or fear towards the sound.

• Phonophobia – a fearful emotional reaction towards specific loud sounds.

• Depression and Anxiety – tinnitus symptoms often pair with feelings of despair and anxiety.

• Other Vestibular Conditions – the vestibular system manages balance and spatial order. It is also closely connected to the auditory system. Several structures in the inner ear play a key role in both systems.

Dealing with Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a disease but rather a symptom of another underlying health condition such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder. Fortunately, there is treatment that can sometimes help alleviate your symptoms which can impact your concentration, sleep, work and even relationships. Tinnitus varies across the population, so it is important to find a knowledgeable healthcare professional who has experience treating tinnitus patients. We want you to feel confident and comfortable – Audicles certified audiologists will help find a solution that works best for you. Make the call for better hearing today!