Tinnitus (pronounced ti-nə-təs or tə-nī-təs) is the conscious awareness of a sound in your ears or head not caused by external noise. Tinnitus is not a condition, it is a symptom of an underlying condition, such as a nervous system disorder, hearing loss, or an ear injury. Too often associated with hearing loss, the fact is more than 50 percent of people living with tinnitus don’t have measurable hearing loss. Since there are many causes, tinnitus can be associated with a variety of health problems.
The American Tinnitus Association estimates the following:
- 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree.
- 16 million have symptoms severe enough to require treatment.
- 2 million are so seriously debilitated, they can’t function on a day-to-day basis.
Visit our page Sounds of Tinnitus to sample several different sounds that people with tinnitus may hear. When you listen to the brief clips, you might recognize a similarity between the represented sound and your own experience. You can also use the clips to help other people in your life understand what it’s like to have tinnitus.
Tinnitus can be triggered by a variety of different causes, and it varies dramatically from person to person. Some of the causes result in permanent tinnitus that may require treatment, while others result in temporary tinnitus that disappears on its own. Common causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, wax buildup, stress, exposure to loud noises, certain disorders, and certain medications. In many cases, an exact cause is never found, but treatment is effective once medical issues are ruled out. To learn more about the various causes of tinnitus, check out our page What Causes Tinnitus?
In all cases, tinnitus involves the brain’s auditory cortex, which is responsible for hearing. Certain nerve cells and neural circuits are “tuned” to a specific pitch, like keys on a piano. When we experience hearing changes, our brains attempt to compensate, setting the cycle of tinnitus into motion.
No matter what the cause, the condition interrupts the transmission of sound from the ear to the brain. Some of the neural circuits no longer receive signals. Strangely, this does not cause hearing loss. Instead, when neural circuits don’t receive stimulation, they react by chattering together, alone at first and then synchronous with each other. Once the nerve cells become hyperactive and occur at the same time, they simulate a tone the brain “hears” as tinnitus. Analogous to a piano, the broken “keys” create a permanent tone without a pianist playing the keys.
Every person living with tinnitus hears a unique sound. The sound can be a low or high frequency, and its volume and pitch may change over time, with the severity varying from person to person. Those with chronic tinnitus may struggle to sleep, focus at work, or communicate with others. In such cases, treatment plays a crucial role in helping an individual regain control of his or her life.
At the Sound Relief Hearing Center, we utilize a variety of evidence-based tinnitus treatment options. Please be warned, most audiologists only offer one solution, hearing aids, which are ineffective in many cases. To treat each unique case of tinnitus, we utilize a variety of innovative technologies and therapies, including Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). For more information about your tinnitus treatment options, visit our page Tinnitus Treatment. If you’re worried that you won’t ever escape the ringing in your ears, visit Tinnitus Success Stories.
What Should I Do If I Have Tinnitus?
Take the first step toward relief by scheduling a tinnitus evaluation with one of our audiologists. By carefully examining your case history and conducting audiometric testing, we can identify the likely causes of your tinnitus and recommend an effective treatment. In addition, if medically necessary, we may refer you to a physician to complete your diagnosis. In the meantime, follow our Tips from Tinnitus Experts to avoid exacerbating the problem.