What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus describes the ringing, buzzing or other sounds that some people hear without any external stimulus. There are two general types:
Most people have what is called “normal tinnitus”. This is a background hum that is only present in quiet situations or after exposure to loud noises (e.g. ringing in the ears after a music concert).
However, some people suffer from tinnitus without exposure to loud noise and for extended periods of time. It is this second type of ‘annoying tinnitus” that can be a problem for people.
What causes annoying tinnitus?
Ongoing tinnitus can be caused by source related to the ear, but interestingly, there are many common causes unrelated to the ear.
Causes related to ear:
- Acoustic damage
- Physical damage to ear
- Ongoing exposure to noise over many years
- Ageing of ear system
- Barometric pressure changes
- Ear infections
- Certain ear medications
Causes unrelated to the ear:
- Nose and throat infections
- Neck problems/ tension
- Jaw joint disorders
- Certain medications/medical procedures (e.g. chemotherapy and heart surgery)
- Psychological stress or anxiety
- Recreational drugs
- Vigorous exercise
- Chronic pain
Tinnitus is a complex problem and could be caused by various underlying issues. You can seek help from your GP, Audiologist or ENT surgeon. Often getting advice from a combination of these practitioners is the best way to tackle your tinnitus.
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss:
From an audiological point of view, 70-80% of people with annoying tinnitus also suffer from hearing loss. If your tinnitus is associated with hearing loss, one possible treatment is to address the hearing loss with hearing aids. Hearing aids help to amplify normal background sounds and distract or even mask annoying tinnitus. People with hearing loss can find that hearing aids completely solve their problem with tinnitus. However, it is important to remember that hearing aids are not the only solution!
Tinnitus can also be treated using:
- Listening to interesting/distracting sounds – e.g. music, audiobook, or podcast
- Listening to relaxing sounds to reduce stress
- Listening to background/environmental sounds