What is Tinnitus?

One of the most commonly experienced hearing problems is a ringing in the ears, also known as Tinnitus. While not an actual cause of hearing loss, Tinnitus can occur as a result of hearing loss. Defined as any sound heard within your ears that doesn’t come from an external source, Tinnitus is often described as a buzzing or a ringing in the ears but can also be heard as a clicking, roaring and, when heard in time with the sufferer’s heartbeat, is referred to as Pulsatile Tinnitus.

Many Australians will have tinnitus at some point in their life, ranging from very mild to severe, however as our brains tune out unimportant sounds, it is common not to notice mild Tinnitus after a while. Most people with Tinnitus have some sort of induced hearing loss and the noise that Tinnitus produces can permanently damage parts of the ear, including the cochlea.

For those who need silence to sleep or concentrate however, Tinnitus can lead to increased stress and anxiety and often this stress can cause the sufferer’s brain to flag the sound as important and amplify it, making the condition worse. Tinnitus can have a significant impact on the sufferer’s life affecting their ability to sleep, concentrate and relax. If you experience Tinnitus it is strongly recommended that you have a full diagnostic hearing assessment.

If you are experiencing symptoms of hearing loss, take our online hearing test now or book an appointment for a hearing test today.

What are the symptoms of Tinnitus?

Symptoms of Tinnitus are limited to sounds heard with your ear which are not actually present, these include:

  • Ringing
  • Humming
  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Rushing
  • Pulsing
  • Hissing
  • Whistling

These can be continuous or they can come and go.

What are the causes of Tinnitus?

The main cause of Tinnitus is damage caused to the small hair cells within our ears. Other causes include:

  • Loud noises, such a construction noise
  • Listening to music too loudly
  • Prolonged exposure to loud noise in your work environment
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Hyperacusis
  • Otosclerosis
  • Hearing injuries
  • Excessive ear wax
  • Ear infections
  • Some antibiotic anti-inflammatory and antidepressant drugs
  • High blood pressure
  • Neck and back injuries
  • TMJ problems

Hearing loss results in Tinnitus, as your brain works to compensate for the diminished number of external stimuli and consequently creates sounds to make up for the absence of external sound. Tinnitus can also, occasionally, be caused by medications. There are numerous factors too, which have been identified as aggravating existing Tinnitus including:

  • Substances such as alcohol and caffeine, nicotine and marijuana
  • Stress and fatigue

While Tinnitus symptoms can be aggravated in a wide range of ways, many of these aggravating factors are related to the causes themselves. For example, loud noises and medications can both cause tinnitus symptoms and they can also play a role in making it worse.

What available treatments are there?

If you think you have Tinnitus, it’s important to make an appointment with an audiologist and undergo a comprehensive hearing test. There are a few, effective treatments for this condition, including:

  • Neuromonics behavioral therapies aimed at treating the root cause of the stress and anxiety which can amplify Tinnitus
  • Changing your diet, cutting down on caffeine, nicotine and alcohol which cause a narrowing of blood vessels and can limit the oxygen supply to your ears
  • Hearing aids can be used to help manage the hearing loss often associated with Tinnitus
  • Therapeutic noise generators to help change how the brain perceives the condition
  • Retraining therapy can provide a range of environmental sounds to mask Tinnitus
  • Changing your lifestyle or introducing relaxation techniques, sports or yoga if stress and fatigue make your symptoms worse
  • Environmental sounds can help to reduce the audibility of your Tinnitus. Playing soft background sounds with a white noise machine can help to drown out the ringing of Tinnitus, these sounds can include static, waves crashing or soft music

While not all treatments will completely cure Tinnitus, there are ways to prevent it from getting worse. Using hearing protection is vital to ensure you don’t do any further damage to your ears. It is also important to only use this hearing protection for the duration which you need it and removing it immediately after, as hearing protection can increase your perception of your existing Tinnitus. Engaging in activities to reduce your overall level of stress can also help to reduce the impact of Tinnitus on your life. Tinnitus and stress can be cyclical with one exacerbating the other, by reducing the level of stress in your life you can significantly reduce its impact on your Tinnitus.

Find out more about some other causes of hearing loss here