Tinnitus is the sensation of a ringing in the ears, although some people say it sounds more like a hissing, buzzing, whistling, roaring or even chirping. In most cases, only the person who has tinnitus can hear it. So what causes tinnitus, and what can you do about it? Start Hearing covers the basics, starting with what causes tinnitus:
- Loud noises and hearing loss: Exposure to loud noises can destroy the non-regenerative cilia (tiny hairs) in the cochlea, causing permanent tinnitus and/or hearing loss. Noise-induced tinnitus is often the result of exposure to loud environmental noises, such as working in a factory setting, with or around heavy machinery or even a single event like a gunshot or loud concert.
- Aging: Natural aging, too, gradually destroys the cilia, and is a leading cause of hearing loss. Tinnitus is a common symptom of age-related hearing loss.
- Ototoxic medications: Some prescription medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antidepressants, diuretics and others can be ototoxic, meaning they are harmful to the inner ear as well as the nerve fibers connecting the cochlea to the brain.
- Hearing conditions: Conditions such as Ménière’s disease are known to cause tinnitus.
- Health conditions: Tinnitus has been associated with some health conditions, including: Cardiovascular disease, Hypertension (high blood pressure), Thyroid problems, Fibromyalgia and chronic pain, Head or neck trauma, and Jaw misalignment.
- Auditory, vestibular or facial nerve tumors
- Stress and fatigue
Is there a cure for tinnitus? There is no known cure for tinnitus. But according to the ATA, there are a few therapies and treatment options. The primary goal is to relieve the perceived burden of tinnitus. For example, sound therapy and hearing aids can help mask the tinnitus sound and reduce the perception and intensity of any ringing in the ears.
What should you do if you or someone you know has tinnitus? The ATA recommends you visit your primary care provider and a hearing health care professional. Special tests can evaluate your auditory system, determine if tinnitus is present and what may be causing it. Take control of your hearing health. It’s important to stay on top of your hearing, even if you are at a younger age. Being aware of the risks for tinnitus can help you protect yourself and identify potential treatment options with your care provider if necessary.