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What is 'Ringing in the Ears?'

Man with Hand to Ear

The term "ringing in the ears" is usually used to describe a particular medical condition: tinnitus. You can experience a variety of sounds; however, ranging from a ringing to a buzzing. Learn more about tinnitus to fully understand what you are experiencing and the best methods of managing it.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a condition that causes an individual to hear sounds that have no physical source; essentially, the sound is coming from inside of someone's ear, rather than the individual hearing an external sound.

What type of sounds do people with tinnitus hear?

The types of sounds caused by tinnitus tend to vary, with ringing sounds perhaps the most common – hence why "ringing in the ears" is often used as a synonym for tinnitus itself. However, tinnitus can also cause a range of other sounds; buzzing, humming, clicking, whistling, beeping and hissing are all fairly common.

The volume of the sounds produced by tinnitus tend to vary between individuals; some will hear loud noises, others fainter, more distant sounds – or perhaps both loud and quiet sounds, depending on the time of day. In addition, tinnitus can also be near-constant, or only occur – or be noticeable – occasionally.

How does living with tinnitus affect a person's life?

Tinnitus is a disruptive condition that can have a significant impact on a person's quality of life. The sounds an individual hears are a distraction and can cause issues such as loss of focus, insomnia (and resulting fatigue), anxiety, stress or depression.

What causes tinnitus?

In some cases, tinnitus does not always have an identifiable source – the condition appears, and disappears, over time without explanation.

However, tinnitus is often a sign of several underlying causes, including – but not limited to - the following:

  • Hearing loss: There is a high comorbidity between hearing loss (that is either age-related or noise-induced) and tinnitus.
  • Ear injury or damage: Injuries can cause both short and long-term damage to the ear, which can result in tinnitus.
  • Ear infections: Tinnitus can develop as a result of fluid buildup inside the ear or infection-related swelling.
  • Tumors: Tumors – which can be either benign or malignant – can cause be a cause of tinnitus in some individuals.
  • Hypertension: Otherwise known as high blood pressure, people with hypertension can develop tinnitus as a secondary symptom.
  • Anemia: People with low levels of red blood cells can develop tinnitus, again as a secondary symptom.
  • Side effects from other treatments. In some cases, tinnitus can be a side effect of treating other health conditions; for example, some chemotherapy drugs have been linked to tinnitus.

Is tinnitus chronic or acute?

Both. For individuals who are experiencing tinnitus as a result of an injury to their ear, infection, or conditions such as anemia or hypertension, the tinnitus may resolve when its primary cause has been successfully treated.

However, tinnitus can also be chronic, especially if hearing loss is the suspected cause of the condition.

How is tinnitus treated?

The first route most people explore when seeking to manage tinnitus is to identify and treat the underlying cause. For example, if an individual is experiencing as a result of hypertension, then treating the hypertension will be the main priority, with the hope being that resolving the primary issue will also see the tinnitus resolve.

If treating the underlying condition does not provide relief, then attention tends to turn to managing the tinnitus itself. Unfortunately, tinnitus cannot be directly 'cured,' especially in cases where the specific cause is unknown. As a result, the focus is primarily on management.

There are a variety of different ways that tinnitus can be managed, but perhaps the most popular is a combination of masking techniques and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). People can wear hearing aids that are equipped with tinnitus masking capabilities, which works by effectively preventing the person from clearly noticing the tinnitus-related sounds. In addition to using tinnitus masking, people can attend CBT to help control their mental and emotional response to living with tinnitus, which many people find to be highly effective.

Also, some people with tinnitus combine masking and CBT with small lifestyle changes; drinking less alcohol, focusing on relieving stress, and even acupuncture can all be helpful in this regard.

What should you do if you suspect you are experiencing tinnitus?

Speak to your audiologist if you are experiencing tinnitus, especially if you have already been diagnosed with hearing loss.

For those who experience it, tinnitus is an undeniably troubling condition. However, with the right treatment, it can be successfully controlled to a point where people with tinnitus can enjoy an excellent quality of life.

To learn more about the Hear for You Hearing & Balance Center, contact 401-475-6116 today.