Tinnitus is often experienced as a ringing (or other persistent sounds) in the ear when no such external sound is present. Tinnitus is not considered a disease but is instead an indicator of a problem in the patient’s auditory system. The problem may originate in any part of the auditory system, including the outer or middle ear, the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain, or the part of the brain that processes sound. Just like a pinprick on your arm sends signals to the brain so that you feel pain, the auditory system indicates distress by producing noise in the ear.
While tinnitus may be most often linked to a ringing in the ears, it can also sound like a roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sound. The noise can be intermittent or continuous and can vary in loudness. The condition can affect one or both ears.
Damage to the sensory hair cells in the inner ear caused by prolonged exposure to high decibel noise is considered the primary cause of tinnitus.
Other causes are usually the result of several 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 Advanced Audiology Care, Dr. Fan will help you explore potential causes that are triggering your symptoms of tinnitus.
Patients may have differing symptoms of tinnitus. However, the symptoms can generally be classified 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 constant loop
Tinnitus symptoms can be highly distracting and can lead to severe drops in engagement in daily life and work-related productivity. As a result, tinnitus can lead to secondary symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and pain.
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.
Tinnitus may be diagnosed as either subjective or objective. Subjective tinnitus is the more common type of tinnitus. Patients with subjective tinnitus tend to complain of head or ear noises that only the patient can hear. On the other hand, objective tinnitus refers to head or ear noises 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.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus for patients with chronic (ongoing) symptoms. This includes patients with sensorineural hearing loss. However, patients with an acute but temporary case of tinnitus can hope for relief from tinnitus with appropriate treatment.
The best means to prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse is to limit your exposure to loud noise. You can do this by:
- Moving away from the sound
- Turning down the volume
- Wearing earplugs or earmuffs
Advanced Audiology Care provides tinnitus management solutions via ZEN sound therapy combined with counseling to help patients reduce the degree to which their tinnitus negatively impacts their quality of life. Visit our page on Tinnitus Treatment to learn more about your treatment options.