Tinnitus is a persistent sound that occurs in the ear with no outside stimulus. It is most referred to as a ringing in the ears although that can be misleading as it does not just have to mimic a ringing noise. Tinnitus can also present as a roaring, clicking, buzzing or hissing sound.

Noises can happen at any pitch and can vary in volume as well. It can occur in both of your ears or just solely on one side. It is estimated that about 25 million Americans experience tinnitus lasting at least five minutes each year. This amounts to about 10% of the population in the United States.

What causes tinnitus?

Contrary to popular belief, tinnitus is not a disease. Tinnitus is an indicator of a malfunction in the auditory system which may lie in the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the ear to the brain, and the part of the brain that processes sound.

Tinnitus can be caused by a wide range of issues. Sometimes just a piece of earwax blocking the ear canal can be the only problem. An ear or sinus infection can also play a part in the appearance of tinnitus. Diseases like Meniere’s disease or diseases related to the heart or blood vessels can be contributing factors. Brain tumors that affect the hearing areas of the brain can cause tinnitus. Hormonal changes or thyroid abnormalities can also surprisingly cause tinnitus.

Of course, noise-induced hearing loss is also a possibility. If you work in a noisy environment like a construction site or factory, then you may develop tinnitus over time with constant exposure. The ongoing exposure to loud noises can damage the sensory hairs in the inner ear that transmit the sound to the brain.

Tinnitus can also be a precursor for a more profound hearing loss in older people. If you experience tinnitus with any regularity, it is important to consult with an audiologist to make sure that there are not steps you need to take to prevent further damage.

Tinnitus can also be a side effect of certain medications. More than 200 prescriptions are linked to tinnitus as your body adjusts to taking the medication regularly, or when you stop taking it. A problem with blood flow in the head or neck can present as pulsatile tinnitus which sounds like a pulsing in time with your heartbeat.

Is it normal to have occasional tinnitus?

Most people will experience minor tinnitus at some point in their life. A brief period of ringing or buzzing in the ear that only lasts a few minutes is no cause for alarm. If it happens regularly, it gets worse, or the sound does not go away, then you should see your audiologist.

While there are many different causes for tinnitus, it can also exist for no apparent reason. While it can be an indicator of a serious health problem, most of the time, it is not a cause for alarm. If it is loud and isn’t treated, it can lead to fatigue, depression, problems with memory and concentration and anxiety.

What treatments are available for tinnitus?

Persistent tinnitus doesn’t have a cure, but there are many treatments that can help people manage side effects. Talking to an audiologist about your specific needs and lifestyle will help you to know what course of treatment to pursue.

If the tinnitus is a part of hearing loss, then a hearing aid is going to be a good option to consider. Adjusting the hearing aid to control outside sounds may mitigate the effect of tinnitus and make it easier to hear.

Sound generators are another great option for some people. There are wearable sound generators that are small devices worn inside the ear to produce soft sounds to mask the tinnitus. There are also tabletop sound generators that can be used beside your bed to help you fall asleep at night.

Are there ways to prevent tinnitus?

Noise-induced hearing loss is the most common method of hearing loss and the most common cause of tinnitus. Limiting your exposure to loud noises by turning down the volume or avoiding loud places can help prevent tinnitus. If you cannot avoid the loud noises, then wearing protective earplugs or earmuffs will help to protect the sensitive parts of your ear from getting damaged.

The most important thing you can do is consult with your audiologist about how to live a healthy lifestyle for your hearing and talk with them about the steps you need to take to care for your health. Call Quality Hearing & Audiology Center at 816-233-0022 to set up an initial appointment to talk about your hearing concerns.