Understanding Tinnitus

Have you ever experienced a sudden ringing, buzzing or hissing in your ears only to find out no one else can hear it? If so, you’ve experienced tinnitus. And you’re not alone. Tinnitus is very common, affecting almost 10% of the US adult population alone. And in fact, it’s the leading service-related disability among US veterans.

What is tinnitus? 

So what exactly is “tinnitus”? Tinnitus is the medical term used to describe the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. While many refer to it as “ringing in the ear”, tinnitus can manifest in many ways including buzzing, hissing, swooshing and clicking.  

For some, tinnitus symptoms can be mild. For others, it is severe and debilitating. Tinnitus can also be permanent (chronic) or intermittent. For everyone suffering from tinnitus, finding relief can make all the difference in quality of life. 

What causes tinnitus?

The exact physical cause of tinnitus is still undetermined. However, there are many things ranging from age to medication to comorbid diseases that can cause tinnitus.

  • Age: As we age, the sensitive sensory hairs in our cochlea called cilia start to deteriorate leading to the development of age-related hearing loss (presbycusis). 
  • Loud noises: Exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time can also cause serious damage to your cilia resulting in noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). 
  • Obstructions: Earwax, congestion and debris blocking the middle ear can cause pressure to build up in the inner ear, affecting the operation of the eardrum. Obstructions directly touching the eardrum can also irritate the organ. 
  • Injuries: Head, neck, jaw and brain trauma can cause nerve, blood flow and muscle issues, affecting the middle or inner ear. 
  • Acute barotrauma: Extreme or rapid changes in air or water pressure can damage the middle or inner ear. 
  • Ototoxic medications: Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and antidepressants are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibers connecting the cochlea to the brain. 
  • Other diseases and medical conditions: Disorders like otosclerosis and Meniere’s disease are known to cause tinnitus. Tinnitus can also be a symptom of health conditions like cardiovascular disease, hypertension, stress and anemia. 
woman plugs her ears to alleviate symptoms of tinnitus

Tinnitus and hearing loss 

More often than not, people experiencing tinnitus also have hearing loss as a comorbidity. In fact, most cases of tinnitus are associated with sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL) specifically. SNHL is the most common type of hearing loss. It is irreversible and progressive, meaning it gets more severe over time. However, with proper treatment, patients with SNHL and tinnitus can manage their symptoms successfully. 

Can you cure tinnitus?

Unfortunately, no. As of right now, tinnitus has no known cure. But that does not mean that individuals with tinnitus must simply “learn to live with it”. There are many treatment options available. 

Available treatment options 

While there is no conclusive cure for tinnitus, there are tools and interventions available that can help mitigate symptoms with exceptional results.

  • Tinnitus-specific hearing aids: Certain hearing aids can help relieve tinnitus symptoms, especially if those symptoms are caused by hearing loss. 
  • Therapy: Sound therapy, behavior and/or cognitive therapy, and tinnitus retaining therapy can help patients control their perception of tinnitus symptoms and how they react to them. 
  • Treat comorbid conditions: By resolving any underlying medical conditions, middle ear obstructions, or head, neck, jaw and brain injuries, patients with temporary tinnitus may be able to cure or lessen their symptoms.

Think You May Have Tinnitus? Get Relief at Reese Audiology 

The first step to relief is proper diagnosis. If you suspect you have tinnitus, seek professional guidance at a licensed hearing health clinic. Here at Reese Audiology, we offer FREE hearing screenings to anyone who suspects they may have tinnitus. After all, hearing is our passion, our focus and our purpose.