What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of sound within the human ear (ringing of the ears) when no actual sound is present. Despite the origin of the name, "ringing" is but one of many sounds the person may perceive.
Although we hear tinnitus in our ears, its source is really in the networks of brain cells (what scientists call neural circuits) that make sense of the sounds our ears hear. A way to think about tinnitus is that it often begins in the ear, but it continues in the brain.
What causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not a disease, but a condition that can result from a wide range of underlying causes: neurological damage, foreign objects in the ear, nasal allergies that prevent (or induce) fluid drain, wax build-up, and exposure to loud sounds.
More than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when you start or stop taking them. However, the most common cause of Tinnitus is noise-induced hearing loss. Tinnitus is sometimes the first sign of hearing loss in older people.
Even with all of these associated conditions and causes, some people develop tinnitus for no obvious reason. Most of the time, tinnitus isn’t a sign of a serious health problem, although if it’s loud or doesn’t go away, it can cause fatigue, depression, anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration. For some, tinnitus can be a source of real mental and emotional anguish.
How do I know if I have Tinnitus?
As tinnitus is usually a subjective phenomenon, it is difficult to measure using objective tests, such as by comparison with noise of known frequency and intensity, as in an audiometric test. The condition is often rated clinically on a simple scale from "slight" to "catastrophic" according to the practical difficulties it imposes, such as interference with sleep, quiet activities, and normal daily activities.
How common is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is common: about 20% of people between 55 and 65 years old report symptoms on a general health questionnaire.
What should I do if I have tinnitus?
The first thing is to see your primary care doctor, who will check if anything, such as ear wax, is blocking the ear canal. Your doctor will ask you about your current health, medical conditions, and medications to find out if an underlying condition is causing your tinnitus.
If your doctor cannot find any medical condition responsible for your tinnitus, you may be referred to an otolaryngologist (commonly called an ear, nose, and throat doctor, or an ENT). The ENT will physically examine your head, neck, and ears and test your hearing to determine whether you have any hearing loss along with the tinnitus. You might also be referred to an audiologist who can also measure your hearing and evaluate your tinnitus.
Are there treatments that can help me? Will hearing devices help?
Tinnitus does not have a cure yet, but treatments that help many people cope better with the condition are available. Most doctors will offer a combination of the treatments, depending on the severity of your tinnitus and the areas of your life it affects the most.
Hearing aids or devices are often helpful for people who have hearing loss along with tinnitus. Using an adjustable hearing aid to carefully control outside sound levels may make it easier for you to hear. Simple Ear offers a very affordable (up to 80% off custom-prescription hearing aids) way for you to see if high-quality hearing devices can help you with tinnitus.