Tinnitus

Tinnitus

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), roughly 10 percent of the U.S. adult population, or about 25 million Americans, has experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external noise is actually present. It is a symptom (not a disease) indicating that something is wrong in the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. Because the function of the auditory nerve is to carry sound, when it is irritated from any cause, it produces head noise. This phenomenon is similar to the sensation nerves elsewhere. If one pinches the skin, it hurts because the stimulated nerves carry pain sensation.

Tinnitus is often described as a ringing in the ears or a roaring, clicking, hissing or buzzing sound. It can affect one or both ears.

What causes tinnitus?

Noise-induced hearing loss, the result of damage to the sensory hair cells of the inner ear, is one of the most common causes of tinnitus.

Other causes are usually the result of a number of 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
  • Medications
  • Brain Tumors
  • Hormonal Changes in Women
  • Thyroid Abnormalities

At NHHI, your audiologist will help you explore potential causes that are triggering your symptoms of tinnitus.

What are the symptoms?

People who suffer from tinnitus have varying symptoms, but often describe the sounds they perceive in one of three ways: 1) tonal – a continuous sound with well-defined frequencies; 2) pulsatile – a pulsing sound, like that of a heartbeat; and 3) musical – a music or singing sound on a continuous loop.

Whatever symptoms people experience, the impact on one’s daily life is significant and may cause secondary symptoms of depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, and pain. Others may have difficulty sleeping and concentrating, and many report that the condition often disrupts their ability to work and socialize.

Are there risk factors for tinnitus?

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 (i.e., 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.

Are there different types of tinnitus?

There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is the most common type and refers to head or ear noises that only the patient hears. Objective tinnitus is less common than subjective and refers to head or ear noises that are audible to both the patient and others. These sounds are usually produced by internal functions in the body’s circulatory (blood flow) and somatic (musculo-skeletal movement) systems.

Is there a cure for tinnitus?

Currently, there is no cure for patients with chronic (ongoing) symptoms (e.g., people with sensorineural hearing loss); however, for patients who have an acute (temporary) case of tinnitus, they may see those symptoms go away over time with proper treatment.

Can tinnitus be prevented?

In limiting your exposure to loud noise, you can prevent tinnitus or keep it from getting worse. You can do this by

  • Moving away from the sound
  • Turning down the volume
  • Wearing earplugs or earmuffs

What treatment options are available?

No matter the degree or severity of tinnitus, there are treatment options available to help patients experience a better quality of life. Check out the following list of tinnitus treatment from the American Tinnitus Association, as well as our list.

Contact Us

If you think you have tinnitus, contact the New Hampshire Hearing Institute (NHHI) at (603) 792-4327 to schedule an appointment with one of our audiologists. During your consultation, your audiologist will first examine your ears to see if anything is blocking your ear canals, such as earwax. Your audiologist will also ask you about your current health, medical conditions, and medications to find out if any underlying condition is causing your symptoms. To learn more about NHHI, visit our website.