Man with ear infection

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is a distressing ringing or buzzing sound that only you can hear, and you’ll perceive these sounds when no external noise is present. The world around you may be completely silent, but you’ll still hear a sound. People often describe tinnitus as “ringing in the ears”, or a hissing, roaring, buzzing, whooshing, or chirping sound. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, roughly 15% of the general public — over 45 million Americans — experience some form of tinnitus. While tinnitus is a symptom of a wide range of conditions, it is most frequently the result of some level of hearing loss.

Tinnitus can range from mild to severe.

You may experience it as an occasional annoyance or as a constant irritation that makes it difficult for you to go about your daily life. Tinnitus can disrupt sleep and make focusing on tasks or accomplishing goals difficult. Those with severe tinnitus struggle with discomfort, irritability, and moodiness, and are at high risk of developing anxiety and depression.

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus has several causes, including sensorineural hearing loss and exposure to very loud noise. It can also be caused by an ear infection or injury, or even a buildup of earwax in the ear canal. You’ll experience tinnitus when the delicate cells of your inner ear have been damaged or destroyed. Despite being damaged, the cells will still send auditory information to the brain, even when everything around you is quiet. Your brain interprets these signals as sound, and that’s why you hear the ringing, buzzing, or clicking of tinnitus.
Woman cupping her ear with sound wave coming out

Causes of tinnitus include:

  • Sensorineural hearing loss
  • Over exposure to potentially damaging noise
  • Impacted Ear Wax
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
  • High blood pressure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Stress
  • Temporal Mandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ)
  • Idiopathic
  • Ototoxic drugs
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Acoustic Neuroma
Smiling elderly couple

Treating Tinnitus

There is currently no cure for tinnitus, and once the cells in your ear have been damaged, they can’t be repaired. However, treating tinnitus will give you relief from the symptoms, and you’ll enjoy life without that ringing or buzzing sound. Tinnitus and hearing loss often go hand in hand, so treating your hearing loss is the first step to helping your ears hear clearly, and reducing your experience of tinnitus. 

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