Tinnitus: Signs, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment Options
Continuous noise in your head, such as your ears ringing, doesn't typically mean there's a serious health issue, but it can definitely be annoying and could be an indication of tinnitus.
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is where you have ringing or noise in your ears. It's a common problem that impacts around 15% to 20% of individuals. It's not actually a condition in itself, but rather a symptom or sign of an underlying disorder, like ear injury, age-related hearing loss, or a circulatory system disorder.
While it can be bothersome, it's typically not a sign of something serious. And, even though it can become worse with age, for many individuals tinnitus improves with the right treatment from an experienced audiologist. If an underlying cause is identified, treating it can help ease tinnitus. Other treatments can mask or decrease the noise which makes tinnitus less noticeable.
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What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?
Some people report tinnitus sounding like:
Others say it sounds like:
- Ocean waves
- Dial tones
- Even music
These signs can intertwine and variably change sometimes as well.
Because tinnitus creates such a large range of noises and each person experiences tinnitus a bit differently, audiologists have to customize their treatments for each individual's tinnitus.
Does Tinnitus Go Away?
A lot of times, tinnitus will dissipate on its own no matter what the cause is. But, this doesn't mean you should sit and wait weeks or months for it to go away. If you're experiencing tinnitus that continues on for weeks and it impacts your quality of life negatively, you should speak with an audiologist.
Some individuals notice their tinnitus becomes worse or doesn't go away. Sometimes it can become so serious you find it hard to:
Your physician will work closely with you to come up with ways of reducing how severe the noise is and how it affects your life.
Is There a Cure for Tinnitus?
There isn't a cure for tinnitus, but it can be mild or severe, temporary or persistent, or instant or gradual. The treatment's goal is helping you manage the perception of the noise in your head. Treatments for tinnitus might not exactly stop this perceived noise, but they could enhance your quality of life.
How Long Does Tinnitus Last?
How long tinnitus lasts depends on whether it is a temporary condition or chronic.
Temporary tinnitus can occur with occasional loud noise exposure. When ringing occurs simultaneously with a muffled noise, it could also mean you have noise-induced hearing loss. Usually, tinnitus symptoms will dissipate within 16 to 48 hours. But, it could take a couple weeks in extreme cases. You can also trigger this ringing again with further exposure to very loud noises.
In some cases, the abnormal hearing sounds will last over six months, which is known as chronic tinnitus. This is common and could cause long-term problems, but it's rarely a sign you're having a medical issue or are going deaf.
If you are a performing musician, go to concerts frequently, or are exposed often to loud noises, you might want to begin implementing steps for preventing long-term hearing loss.
What are the Causes of Tinnitus?
There are many potential causes of tinnitus, including the following:
- Age-related hearing loss. Tinnitus's most common cause is loss of or damage to the tiny sensory hair cells in your inner ear's cochlea. This often occurs as you age.
- Exposure to loud noise. Some research suggests sensory loss of specific of sound result in changes in the way in which your brain processes noise. Tinnitus could also be also be due to extended exposure to extremely loud noise.
- Ear blockages and infections: Ear blockages from wax buildup or infections of the ear could cause tinnitus. If earwax or a foreign body causes tinnitus, you can make the tinnitus disappear by removing the wax or object.
- Medications: Certain medicines like ibuprofen, aspirin, diuretics, and antibiotics can be "ototoxic." They can lead to inner ear damage, which can lead to tinnitus. Cancer medications, water pills, and some antidepressants can also cause “ringing in the ear”.
- Neck and head injuries: Head or neck injuries could cause an onset of tinnitus. Issues stemming from head or neck injuries can lead to tinnitus in one in ten people. Injuries like these are often linked with a severe form of tinnitus.
- Middle ear bone stiffening: Also called otosclerosis, this condition can cause symptoms like vertigo (balance issues), dizziness and tinnitus.
- Earwax or foregin object touching your eardrum: Having a buildup of earwax or a foregin in your eardrum could cause tinnitus.
- Diabetes: Diabetes can cause issues with nerves and blood vessels inside your ears that could lead to tinnitus and hearing loss.
- Traumatic brain injury: TBI or concussion symptoms often include tinnitus, which can result not just from the TBI itself, but also as a side effect from medicines often used for treating emotional, cognitive and pain issues linked with TBI.
- Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders: Tinnitus is sometimes a symptom of TMJ, however, an individual may mistake their tinnitus as a different issue and leave their TMJ untreated.
- Cardiovascular diseases: If your tinnitus mimics a beating, pumping or pulsating sound, it might be due to blood vessel damage referred to as pulsatile tinnitus. Several common underlying cardiac reasons behind tinnitus are turbulent blood flow, high blood pressure, small artery malformations and heart disease.
- Eustachian tube (middle ear) issues: This condition might occur when you have a swollen mucosal lining of the tube or if it won’t properly open or close. If it’s a dysfunctional tube, you might experience symptoms like pain, muffled hearing, balance problems, a sense of fullness in your ear, reduced hearing or tinnitus.
- Meniere's Disease: This inner order disorder may be the result of abnormal pressure of inner ear fluid. Tinnitus can be an early indication of Meniere’s disease.
- Blood vessel disorders: Atherosclerosis and malformation of capillaries are among the blood vessel disorders that can be a cause of Tinnitus.
- Acoustic neuroma: This less common condition involving a benign tumor can cause tinnitus in one ear.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Tinnitus
Tinnitus involves the perception of "hearing noise" when there isn't any external sound present. Signs of tinnitus might include certain phantom sounds in your ears, such as:
This phantom sound can vary in pitch from a high squeal to a low roar and you might experience it in one ear or both. Sometimes, the noise can be so loud it starts interfering with how you hear external sound or how you concentrate. Tinnitus might come and go, or it might occur all the time.
What Tinnitus Treatment Options?
Most physicians will provide a combination of treatments like these below, depending on how severe your tinnitus is and where it's affecting your life the most. Some common treatments are:
1. Hearing Aids
These are helpful for individuals with tinnitus and hearing loss. When you use a hearing aid and adjust it to control sound levels outside, it can make it simpler for you to hear. Your tinnitus may be less noticeable the more you can hear.
2. Wearable Sound Generators
These are small electronic devices you fit into your ear. They use a pleasant, soft sound that helps mask your tinnitus. Certain individuals seek to have this "masking sound" completely cover their tinnitus up, but most people like it to be a tad bit louder than the tinnitus their experiencing. This masking sound might be a:
- Random tone
- Soft "shhhhhhhhh"
3. Tabletop Sound Generators
These are used to help with sleep or relaxation. You place them close to your bed and can program them to play soft, pleasant sounds like:
- Summer night sounds
If you have mild tinnitus, this may be all you require to fall asleep.
Counseling could help you learn how to cope with living with your tinnitus. Many counseling programs provide an educational element to assist you in understanding what is going on in your brain that causes tinnitus. Certain counseling programs can also assist you in changing how you react or think about your tinnitus. You may learn ways of making the sound less noticeable to help you fall asleep at night or relax during the day.
5. Cochlear Implants
These are sometimes used in individuals who have hearing loss along with their tinnitus. Cochlear implants bypass your inner ear's damaged portion and send electrical signals that start directly stimulating your auditory nerve. Cochlear implants bring in outside noises that help stimulate changes in your neural circuits and mask your tinnitus.
6. Acoustic Neural Stimulation
This is a fairly new method for individuals with tinnitus that's extremely loud or doesn't go away. It uses headphones and a palm-sized device for delivering a broadband acoustic signal that embeds in music. This treatment assists in stimulating change in your brain's neural circuits which gradually desensitizes you to your tinnitus. It's effective in decreasing or eliminating tinnitus in many people.
Contact Houston Hearing Center to Request your Appointment
If you suspect you have tinnitus and it's not going away after a few days, give us a call at Houston Hearing Center to set up an appointment.
We've been helping individuals of all different ages hear better for over 100 years in the Houston community. Our audiologists work together with the doctors at Houston Ear, Nose, Throat & Allergy to offer outstanding balance and hearing care with personalized treatment plans. This multidisciplinary approach helps our patients receive both audiological and medical care seamlessly.