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What Is Tinnitus?

At one point or another, you may have experienced a ringing noise in your ears. For example, sometimes people find that their ears are ringing after a car accident or a concert. Whether your symptoms swiftly fade away or linger for months, you are suffering from a condition known as tinnitus. What is tinnitus? Quite simply, it is a condition characterized by the hearing of sound when no external sound is present, and it typically takes the form of ringing or buzzing in the ears. If you believe that you suffer from tinnitus, contact Sound Relief Hearing Center right away. Our audiologists can determine the cause of your condition and help you pursue an effective form of treatment.

What Is Tinnitus?

Nearly 50 million Americans (about 15 percent of the general public) suffer from the audiological and neurological condition tinnitus (source). So what is tinnitus exactly? As we mentioned briefly above, tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external noise is actually present. This sound can be described as ringing, hissing, humming, buzzing, static, whooshing, roaring, pulsing, or even ocean waves, amongst a variety of other sounds.

The symptoms vary widely, but most people with tinnitus characterize the sounds they perceive in one of three ways: tonal (a nearly continuous sound with well-defined frequencies), pulsatile (pulsing sounds, which often correlate to the heartbeat), or musical (music or singing, sometimes on a continuous loop).

The word “tinnitus” comes from the Latin tinnīre, which means “to ring or tinkle,” and it has two pronunciations. Though distinct, these pronunciations are both correct and interchangeable:

  • ti-NIGHT-us: typically used by patients and laypeople
  • TINN-a-tus: typically used by clinicians and researchers

Tinnitus can significantly impact the life of the person suffering from it. For example, it can cause depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and pain. Many people with tinnitus find it hard to sleep or concentrate, and some report that the condition disrupts their ability to work and socialize. In addition, lost earnings and health expenses can make tinnitus a financially troubling condition.

Subjective vs. Objective Tinnitus

Most of the time, tinnitus is subjective, which means that other people cannot hear the sound experienced by the person with tinnitus (the buzzing, hissing, roaring, etc.). Subjective tinnitus often results from hearing loss or noise exposure, which damages the hair cells of the inner ear. With objective tinnitus, on the other hand, other people can actually detect the sound heard by the person suffering from tinnitus. Far less common, objective tinnitus results from noise generated by structures near the ear. For example, disorders that affect blood vessels, muscles, and certain nerves can cause objective tinnitus.

Causes of Tinnitus

Several health conditions can cause tinnitus, and many more amplify its severity. Your audiologist can help you explore potential causes to determine what is triggering the buzzing or roaring in your ears. Most people with tinnitus find that it is caused by one of the following conditions:

  • Age-related hearing loss, also known as presbycusis
  • Exposure to loud noise, especially over the long term (working around heavy construction equipment or firearms, frequently attending concerts, turning up the volume on your iPod, etc.)
  • Earwax blockage, caused by the accumulation of earwax
  • Ear bone issues, such as the stiffening of the bones in the middle ear
  • Ménière’s disease, a disorder characterized by vertigo, hearing loss, a feeling of fullness in the ear, and tinnitus
  • Head or neck injuries, which can affect the inner ear and hearing nerves, typically causing tinnitus in only one ear
  • Medications, including antibiotics, diuretics, antidepressants, cancer medications, quinine medications, and high doses of aspirin

Although anyone can experience tinnitus, several factors can increase your risk for developing the condition. These include age, smoking, cardiovascular problems, and gender (with men more likely to experience tinnitus). People frequently exposed to loud noises, including factory workers, construction workers, soldiers, and musicians, have a particularly high risk of developing tinnitus.

To search for possible causes of tinnitus, your audiologist may conduct a hearing exam, ask you to move certain body parts (like your eyes, jaw, and neck), or conduct imaging tests. In addition, he or she may ask what your tinnitus sounds like (whether clicking, rushing, ringing, pulsing like a heartbeat, etc.) to diagnose the cause.

Unfortunately, some people never determine the cause of their tinnitus. Even in these cases, however, audiologists can often help patients decrease the severity of the condition by exploring different treatment options.

Pursuing Treatment for Tinnitus

Although there is no “cure” for tinnitus, treatment can provide relief and greatly enhance quality of life. In order to alleviate your tinnitus, you will need to work with an audiologist that specializes in tinnitus to determine the cause of your condition. Then, your audiologist can create a personalized treatment program to accommodate your needs and preferences. Common treatments for tinnitus include Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), Oticon Tinnitus SoundSupport, Widex Zen™, ReSound LiNX2 (a revolutionary iPhone app), hearing devices, counseling, drug therapy, and relaxation.

If you are living with tinnitus, contact the Sound Relief Hearing Center. We are the tinnitus experts you need to experience the best possible outcome with your tinnitus treatment. To learn more about us, please browse our website or give us a call at 720-259-9962. You can also schedule an appointment online to meet with one of our tinnitus specialists. We would be happy to provide a more in-depth and personalized answer to the question, “What is tinnitus?”