What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition in which you experience a “ringing of the ears” when no other external sound is present. Tinnitus sounds differ from person to person, and they have been described as a click, pop, crack, rush of air, whistle, hiss, and in some cases, a ringing. Rare cases have included the sound of music.

In many cases, tinnitus indicates there may be an underlying medical condition, whether it is hearing loss, high blood pressure, or other cardiovascular disorders.

Prevalence of Tinnitus

The American Tinnitus Association estimates that “one third of all adults experience tinnitus at some point in their lives.” Tinnitus may appear briefly, after exposure to loud sounds, for example. Approximately 10% to 15% of adults have experienced long-term tinnitus. In recent years, 60% of veterans returning from combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq have reported cases of both tinnitus and hearing loss.


Tinnitus and Hearing Loss

An estimated 90% of tinnitus cases go hand in hand with hearing loss. This is due to the relationship between hearing and inner ear hair cells. With presbycusis (age-related hearing loss) and noise-induced hearing loss, there may be degeneration to inner ear hair cells. Inner ear hair cells are responsible for translating sound vibrations into neural signals recognized by our brains as sound. Hearing specialists suggest that tinnitus may result from the degeneration of these hair cells, as they may send phantom signals to the brain, which is then registered as sound.

Types and Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus may be temporary (acute) or ongoing (chronic). There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective.

Subjective tinnitus comprises more than 99% of cases. With subjective tinnitus, only the person who experiences tinnitus hears the sounds. Often times, subjective tinnitus indicates issues with hearing and neurological reactions to hearing loss. Damage to inner ear hair cells, which process sound, may cause a “leak,” which is then registered by the brain as the phantom sound of tinnitus (see above).

Objective tinnitus is quite rare, comprising less than 1% of cases. With objective tinnitus, both the person who experiences tinnitus as well as someone sitting nearby may hear the sounds. Objective tinnitus has been linked to circulatory or somatic systems in the body. Objective tinnitus has been linked with medical conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular conditions, and musculo-skeletal conditions.

To understand your specific form of tinnitus, it is important to see a hearing specialist. There are many causes; often time there is a combination of multiple causes. Causes include: hearing loss, Meniere’s disease, loud noise exposure, migraines, head injury, ototoxic medication, hypertension, impacted earwax, tumors, cigarettes, high doses of caffeine, and certain types of tumors.

Effects of Tinnitus

Tinnitus has been known to cause many physical and emotional issues for people. Imagine if you are hearing a phantom sound day in and day out! Tinnitus has been known to cause sleep deprivation, which then carries over into the daytime, causing stress, tension, nervousness, anger, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and difficulty with concentration.

Treating Tinnitus

Because there are so many potential causes for tinnitus, there is no singular cure. However, by seeking help from a hearing professional, you may begin to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus. If tinnitus is caused by another condition that is treatable, you may find that tinnitus may disappear once treated.

There are a few treatments available to alleviate the symptoms of tinnitus. Many hearing aids offer tinnitus treatment in the form of sound masking therapy. The hearing aid will play a static white noise or a nature sound to mask the tinnitus sounds. At the same time, by amplifying sounds in your life, the tinnitus may fall into the background.

If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is important to contact us at Hearken. A hearing evaluation will identify your current hearing abilities. We will be able to identify the form of tinnitus you experience and work with you on treatments to help with tinnitus.