All About Tinnitus

Cyndi Connolly

Have you experienced a ringing, buzzing or other noise in your ear? The experience of hearing phantom sounds is known as “tinnitus” and it can be both an indicator of hearing issues and a frustrating health problem in its own right. Tinnitus manifests differently for different people, and there is no singular cause of tinnitus, although the presence of tinnitus does mean that the auditory system has been damaged.

Tinnitus is very common, nearly one in five people experience it – but that doesn’t mean it is easy to live with. If tinnitus develops suddenly or interferes with your daily life, it is time to talk to your hearing specialist about it. Consulting with your specialist can help determine the cause of your tinnitus and connect you with effective treatment.

What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?

People liken the intrusive noise of tinnitus in a wide range of sounds. Some tinnitus sounds tonal ringing, while it can also sound like buzzing, static, roaring noise, as well as clicking, pulsing or humming sounds. 

In most cases, tinnitus will be a sound that only you can hear. This is called “subjective tinnitus” and it can be rooted in concerns with  the inner, middle or outer ear, as well as problems in the auditory nerves or in the way your brain interprets sound signals from the ear. 

It is more rare for tinnitus to be caused by a sound that is also faintly audible to others. This is classified as “objective tinnitus” and can be caused by problems with the bones of the middle ear, issues with blood vessel function or errant muscle contractions. 

What Causes Tinnitus?

Many people are surprised to learn that tinnitus is a sign of other health issues rather than a condition in itself. There are a wide range of underlying health conditions that may cause tinnitus, and for some people the cause of tinnitus is never conclusively determined. 

The majority of tinnitus is linked to damage to the auditory system and hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss can be incurred by exposure to loud noises, infections in the ear or simply through aging. When the delicate sensory cells in the inner ear are damaged, they cannot repair themselves and create gaps in our ability to hear. It is also thought that these damaged “hair cells” can also misfire, leading to tinnitus.

Tinnitus can also arise from other causes. Impacted or excessive earwax may cause tinnitus problems. A variety of medications may also lead to temporary or chronic tinnitus. Medication that can be harmful to your hearing is called “ototoxic” and includes many cancer and malarial drugs, high doses of aspirin as well as some antibiotics and antidepressants. Always consult with your doctor before changing your intake of any prescribed medication. 

Outside of the auditory system, tinnitus can also be caused by problems with blood vessels and cardiovascular health. Stress and high blood pressure have been shown to exacerbate tinnitus. Kinking or stiffening in the pathways that deliver blood to the head and neck can cause tinnitus along with blockages to blood flow, such as tumors.

Tinnitus can be a sign of some rarer health issues so be sure to let your doctors know if you experience it. Injuries to the head and neck can result in tinnitus, as can health problems with your temporomandibular joint (TMJ for short). Tinnitus can also indicate Meniere’s disease, a disorder of the inner ear that causes extreme dizziness and potential hearing loss. If tinnitus develops alongside an infection or is accompanied by dizziness, it is important to seek medical help. 

How Is Tinnitus Treated?

Just as there is no singular cause for tinnitus, there is no singular cure or treatment. That said, there are a growing number of solutions for people suffering from chronic and intrusive tinnitus. Holistic approaches that incorporate stress management, meditation can help lessen the impact of many types of tinnitus. 

For those with tinnitus and significant hearing loss, the phantom noises of tinnitus can be especially intrusive as they get in the way of interpreting incoming sounds and speech. Many modern hearing aids can be customized with built in tinnitus management – and our team can help!

It is important to not let your tinnitus hold you back. If the noise of tinnitus interferes with your everyday life or sleep patterns, it’s time to seek relief. Contact us to learn more.