Tinnitus is sometimes called ringing in the ears. The word comes from the Latin verb tinnire, which means to tinkle or ring. Tinnitus isn’t always a ringing sound. Some people describe the noise as:

  • Whirring
  • Chirping
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Whistling and of course
  • Ringing.

With tinnitus, you perceive a noise that isn’t in the external environment. Tinnitus is a symptom that there is a problem with the hearing system. It is not a disease itself, it is a symptom of something else. Diagnosing that “something else” can be a challenge.

Causes of tinnitus

The actual mechanism of tinnitus is still not totally understood. What is understood is that tinnitus is clearly a signal that something has gone awry with the systems associated with hearing. Many advances have been made in the last few years, so we better understand tinnitus.

Tinnitus can be temporarily caused by medications such as aspirin or brief exposure to loud noise, such as music in a dance club. When the medication or exposure is removed, the tinnitus disappears. Unfortunately, not all tinnitus is this easy to diagnose and treat. Other possible causes include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Wax build up
  • Middle ear problems
  • Head injuries
  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) problems
  • Cranial nerve tumors

Tinnitus risk factors

Anyone can have tinnitus, but certain factors can increase your risk of tinnitus.

Exposure to loud noise: Exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time can damage the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that are critical to proper hearing. When these cells are damaged, the result is sensorineural hearing loss. This is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. Anyone in a loud environment can be affected, from factory workers to waitresses in bars.

Your age: The older you are, the more likely you are to have tinnitus. As we age, the nerves associated with hearing decline and this leads to tinnitus as well.

Cardiovascular conditions: Conditions the affect the flow of blood can cause tinnitus as well. This includes high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and even certain diuretics that are prescribed for these conditions. Smoking restricts blood flow and thus contributes to tinnitus.

Treatments for tinnitus

Relieving tinnitus begins with a treatment of the underlying condition. If the condition cannot be cured (for example hearing loss) then the treatment focuses on reducing the tinnitus and controlling the underlying condition.

For example, one of the most common causes of tinnitus is undiagnosed hearing loss. When the hearing loss is addressed and hearing aids are worn, most people find a significant reduction in their tinnitus. If high blood pressure is causing the tinnitus, controlling the blood pressure can control the tinnitus.

In other instances, such as Meniere’s disease, the focus is on reducing the tinnitus with masking noises, counseling, and sound therapy.

Start with a Diagnosis

If tinnitus is more than just an occasional annoyance, don’t suffer. Even if you’ve been told in the past nothing can be done, chances are the new advances in tinnitus treatment can help you.

The first place to start is with a complete exam of your hearing system. Audiologists are the medical professionals that specialize in the components of your hearing system. From the outer ear to the auditory nerves transmitting signals to the brain, they know every part of your body associated with hearing.

Call an audiologist and schedule an appointment for a complete exam. The only thing you have to lose is your tinnitus.