What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the term used to describe the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. While it is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” tinnitus can manifest in many different ways including buzzing, whistling, hissing, swooshing and clicking. Tinnitus can be temporary or chronic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the public experiences some form of tinnitus which amounts to over 20 million people.


What Causes Tinnitus?

Tinnitus can be caused by many things but is usually a symptom of an underlying condition. The treatment for your particular tinnitus depends on the condition that is causing it, the severity, and any accompanying issues such as hearing loss.

Common causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, stress and depression, earwax buildup, abnormal bone growth in the ear, Meniere’s disease, head or neck injuries and benign tumors of the cranial nerve.

The most common cause of tinnitus is sensorineural hearing loss. In order to find the cause of your tinnitus, your audiologist will obtain a complete medical history and audiological evaluation.

In rare cases, tinnitus may be caused by a blood vessel disorder, resulting in pulsatile tinnitus. This type of tinnitus may be caused by a head or neck tumor, a buildup of cholesterol in the circulatory system, high blood pressure, turbulent blood flow, or malformation of the capillaries surrounding the ear. The result is a tinnitus that sends out pulsing signals in conjunction with the flow of your heartbeat.


Is There a Cure?

While there is no scientifically-validated cure for most types of tinnitus, there are many treatment options that can ease the perceived burden of tinnitus which can provide comfort and relief to many patients. No medications have been approved specifically for the treatment of tinnitus but we have many tools to help patients manage their tinnitus.

We will work with you to identify potential causes for your specific symptoms, and there may be a way to reduce the impact of tinnitus on your daily life. In some instances, changes to your diet or medications may help with your symptoms. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, can also help alleviate the constant ringing in your ears.


What Are the Treatment Options for Tinnitus?

A common treatment is acoustic therapy or sound therapy, which uses sounds to help the brain re-focus and diminish the emotional impact of the tinnitus. Many hearing devices are combination devices which have combined treatment for hearing loss and tinnitus, allowing the underlying problem and the symptoms to be targeted at the same time.

No two patients and no two tinnitus cases are alike. Your audiologist will ask you many questions about how the condition is impacting your daily life to assess the appropriate treatment strategy best suited to your particular needs.

After your audiological evaluation is performed, your audiologist will provide you with the appropriate referrals for medical treatment or psychological treatment if needed to further manage your tinnitus.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there medications for tinnitus?
Almost all of the “surefire” remedies for tinnitus found on the internet are based on junk science, case studies, or no real evidence at all. But there are some things you can try that might help lessen symptoms, including: limiting exposure to loud noises, lowering your blood pressure, ingesting less salt, and limiting exposure to alcohol.
Can tinnitus be cured?
Current research by neurologists suggests that altering certain areas of the brain that respond to sound — or a lack thereof — may provide relief. Experiments to regrow broken hair cells have also been performed. Regrowth of hair cells means that hearing is restored, which prevents the brain from attempting to fill the void left by a lack of hair cells, ultimately ending tinnitus. Both theories are likely years away from clinical trials, which means a greater period of time until any possible cure hits the market. Curing tinnitus may be possible, but likely not in the near future.
Can tinnitus be directly measured?
Rarely. There is a form of tinnitus referred to as “objective tinnitus” that your doctor can hear. This is typically the result of a blood vessel problem, an inner-ear bone condition, or muscle contractions.
Does tinnitus cause hearing loss?
No. Tinnitus is a symptom of any number of conditions, including hearing loss.
Why is tinnitus worse at night?
In our daily lives, sounds around us typically mask tinnitus to some degree. At night, when things are quiet, there’s less noise and fewer mental distractions. If your tinnitus is stress related, it’s also possible that the cumulative stress of your day has made your symptoms worse.