What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the term for the perception of noise when no external sound is present; it is often referred to as “ringing in the ears.” This “head noise” is unrelated to an external source of stimulation. Tinnitus is a common disorder affecting over 50 million people in the United States. It may be intermittent, constant, or fluctuant, mild or severe, and tinnitus may vary from a low roaring sensation to a high-pitched type of sound. The location of the tinnitus may be in one or both ears, or it could also involve the head.

Classifications of Tinnitus

Tinnitus may or may not be associated with a hearing loss. It is classified as:
Subjective tinnitus – A noise perceived by the patient alone, which is quite common. With this type of tinnitus, the patient has problems with the auditory (hearing) nerves or a deficit in the auditory pathway, which is the part of the brain that interprets nerve signals as sounds.
Objective tinnitus – A noise perceived by the patient as well as by another listener, which is relatively uncommon. With this form of tinnitus, the patient and the doctor can hear the head noise. This is usually caused by a vascular issue, a muscle contraction, or an inner ear condition.

Symptoms of Tinnitus

The bothersome sound of tinnitus is described differently by different patients. The head noise may be of a low pitch to a high squeal, and it can affect one or both ears. Typical symptoms of these phantom noises are described as:

Ocean waves

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a disease, but a symptom of another underlying condition of the ear, the auditory nerve, or elsewhere. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, with single or multiple tones. The exact cause (or causes) of tinnitus is not known in every case. There are, however, several likely factors which may cause tinnitus or make existing head noise worse. These include:

Noise-induced hearing loss
Wax build-up in the ear canal
Certain medications
Ear or sinus infections
Age-related hearing loss
Ear diseases and disorders

Jaw misalignment
Cardiovascular disease
Certain types of tumors
Thyroid disorders
Head and neck trauma

Of the many factors that contribute to tinnitus, exposure to loud noises and hearing loss are the most common causes of tinnitus. Treating a hearing loss, either by medical management or with hearing aids, can help. Modern digital hearing aids also provide tuned noise maskers, which may alleviate the tinnitus. Other new and effective tinnitus treatments are also available. If you have tinnitus, a comprehensive hearing evaluation by an audiologist and a medical evaluation by an otologist are recommended.

If you or a loved one have ringing in the ears, contact our practice to schedule a comprehensive hearing evaluation.