For such a complicated condition Tinnitus can be explained rather simply. Tinnitus is when you experience noises in one or both of your ears, most typically this noise is said to be a ringing or buzzing, however it has been described as hissing, humming, whooshing and even likened to the sound of ocean waves. The noise isn’t caused by an external sound and other people usually can’t hear it. Tinnitus is common and affects about 15% to 20% of people, primarily older adults.
Tinnitus is unique to the individual, although you might be able to describe your tinnitus similarly to another person’s your perception of the sound can differ greatly. The most common form of Tinnitus is subjective, which means other people cannot hear the sound. This type of tinnitus is often the result of hearing loss or exposure to excessive noise, which damages the hair cells or the inner ear. Objective Tinnitus is much less common. This is where other people, such as an audiologist carrying out an ear exam can also hear the sounds. This type of tinnitus can result from noise generated by structures near the ear as well as disorders that affect blood vessels, muscles and even some nerves.
Perception of Tinnitus
As previously mentioned, tinnitus can be perceived in various ways and there are three ways most reported.
- Musical Tinnitus (Also known as Musical Ear Syndrome, this form of tinnitus can be extremely convincing. If you are experiencing this form of tinnitus you may believe that music is playing. This may sound pleasant however musical tinnitus can result in feelings of anxiety, problems with focus and higher stress levels.
- Tonal Tinnitus (Most often perceived as continuous but can also be intermittent. The sound may be singular or multiple sounds mixed).
- Pulsatile Tinnitus (This is perceived as a pulsing. Often this pulsing is synced with your heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus is rhythmic and most referenced as whooshing or like ocean waves).
Tinnitus can be caused by several health conditions and many more can amplify its severity. Regardless of the cause what is evident to your audiologist is that the signal that should go from the ear to the brain is damaged or not working in some way. There are multiple reasons for this:
- Age-related hearing loss
- Exposure to loud noise (Your work environment, the volume of your music etc.)
- Earwax blockage (caused by an accumulation of ear wax)
- Ear bone issues (Stiffening of the bones)
- Ménière’s disease (A disorder resulting in vertigo, hearing loss, a discomforting feeling of fullness in the ear and tinnitus)
- Injuries to the head or neck (Some people who have been in car crashes have experienced tinnitus long after the accident)
- Medications (Some medications can onset tinnitus)
Tinnitus can be experienced by anyone, however there are several factors which can increase your risk of the condition. These factors include your age, whether you are a smoker, cardiovascular issues and even gender.
Your audiologist will attempt to determine the cause of your tinnitus by asking you questions about your lifestyle and work environment. They will conduct a hearing health check and may ask you to move certain parts of your body while conducting imaging tests. Some people may never be able to determine the cause of their tinnitus, however your audiologist can advise and help decrease the severity of the condition and recommend treatment.
Treatment of Tinnitus
Unfortunately, there is no cure for tinnitus, however treatment can provide relief from symptoms and massively improve your quality of life. To find the right treatment it’s important that you work with your audiologist to determine the type and causes of your tinnitus. You audiologist will then provide a personalized treatment plan.