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What is Tinnitus?

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is often defined as “ringing in the ears.” Although this quickly identifies it as a hearing condition many of us experience at some point in our lives, there’s a lot more to it than that. Let’s take a closer look at this hearing condition that affects more than 45 million Americans.

It’s all in your head, but it’s very real

The definition of ringing leads us to believe tinnitus is tied to sound. In reality, tinnitus isn’t caused by a “sound” at all -- the telltale ringing doesn’t have an outside source. Your brain cells simply perceive it as a sound. It’s all in your head. At the same time, it’s shouldn’t be easily dismissed. Some people can adjust to tinnitus without much affect on their daily lives while others can experience insomnia, depression, anxiety, irritability and other mental and physical symptoms. Besides having these effects on the individual, tinnitus can indicate a more serious medical condition. Tinnitus is a very real concern, so you should visit a hearing healthcare professional as soon as you start experiencing its symptoms. 

It’s not always ringing

Tinnitus isn’t always perceived as a ringing sound, either. It can be experienced as hissing, whistling, clicking, roaring or in rare cases, even voices and music (and you just thought you were going crazy!). This mysterious non-noise can be high or low pitched, loud or quiet, consistent or sporadic, and in one or both ears. Even with such a wide range of perceptions, hearing healthcare professionals will be able to recognize these descriptive terms as symptomatic of tinnitus.

What causes tinnitus?

So what causes tinnitus? The most common is noise-induced hearing loss, but the following conditions could also be the source:

  • Ear infections
  • Earwax buildup
  • Medications
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Stress
  • Head injuries
  • Tumors
  • Heart and blood vessel disease

How to treat tinnitus

The way tinnitus is treated depends on the cause, so there isn’t a set cure. Often it will go away on its own once the underlying condition (hearing loss, an ear infection, etc.) is diagnoses and addressed. Other times, the symptoms are treated with special hearing aids or sound generators that provide temporary relief. Some find therapy helpful in learning how to manage or tune out the perceived sound. Again, each case is different, and a hearing healthcare professional is the most qualified to determine the best treatment.

As we’ve shown, tinnitus doesn’t always show up as ringing in the ears and is more of a symptom than a disease. Still, it’s a concerning hearing condition shouldn’t be ignored. If you’re experiencing tinnitus, contact a hearing healthcare professional today.