Tinnitus is the term used to describe the condition of perceiving a ringing, buzzing, or whooshing noise in the absence of an external sound source. The condition can affect one or both ears.
Tinnitus is a symptom (not a disease) indicating that something is wrong in the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. Because the function of the auditory nerve is to carry sound, when it is irritated from any cause, it produces head noise. This phenomenon is similar to the sensation nerves elsewhere. If one pinches the skin, it hurts because the stimulated nerves carry pain sensation.
Prevalence of Tinnitus in the United States
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), roughly 10 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by many things and is usually a symptom of an underlying condition. The treatment for your particular tinnitus will depend on the condition that is causing it, the severity, any accompanying issues such as hearing loss, and the impact the tinnitus has on daily activities.
Noise-induced hearing loss, the result of damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, is one of the most common causes of tinnitus.
Other causes are usually the result of a number of health conditions, including:
- Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis)
- Ear and Sinus Infections
- Earwax Blockage
- Head and Neck Injuries
- Diseases of the Heart or Blood Vessels
- Ménière’s Disease
- Brain Tumors
- Hormonal Changes in Women
- Thyroid Abnormalities
At Coates Hearing Clinic, your audiologist will help you explore potential causes that are triggering your symptoms of tinnitus.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
People who suffer from tinnitus have varying symptoms, but often describe the sounds they perceive in one of three ways:
- Tonal – a continuous sound with well-defined frequencies
- Pulsatile – a pulsing sound, like that of a heartbeat
- Musical – a music or singing sound on a continuous loop
Tinnitus symptoms can have a grave effect on one’s daily life, and as a result may cause secondary symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and pain. For some people, tinnitus also affects sleep and concentration, or their ability to work and socialize.
Risk Factors for Tinnitus
Men are at a higher risk for developing tinnitus than women because they are often in occupations that expose them to loud noise over an extended period of time (e.g., factory workers, construction workers, military service, and the music industry). Other factors that may increase a person’s risk for developing tinnitus include age, smoking, and cardiovascular problems.
Types of Tinnitus
There are two types of tinnitus. A person may be diagnosed with either subjective or objective tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is the most common type and refers to head or ear noises that only the patient hears. Objective tinnitus is less common than subjective and refers to head or ear noises that are audible to both the patient and others. These sounds are usually produced by internal functions in the body’s circulatory (blood flow) and somatic (musculoskeletal movement) systems.
There is no cure for tinnitus for patients with chronic (ongoing) symptoms (e.g., people with a sensorineural hearing loss); however, for patients who have an acute (temporary) case of tinnitus, they may see those symptoms go away with proper treatment over time.
You can prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse by limiting your exposure to loud noise. You can do this by
- Moving away from the sound
- Turning down the volume
- Wearing earplugs or earmuffs
Treatment Options for Tinnitus
There are several treatment options available to help patients experience a better quality of life, no matter the degree or severity of tinnitus they may have. To learn more about what Coates Hearing Clinic can do for you, check out our page on Tinnitus Treatment.