Are you experiencing a ringing, buzzing, hissing or humming sound in one or both ears? Does it seem like the annoying sound is in the middle of your head? Puzzled by high pitched tones or static sounds that people around you do not seem to hear? If you or a family member are experiencing these symptoms, you may be suffering from tinnitus.
What is Tinnitus?
It is a perception of sound in your ears, in the absence of an external source:
- You may hear the same sounds, or different ones each time
- They may vary in pitch or intensity, from low roars to high squeals
- They may vary in frequency, start and stop, or in some cases, occur all the time
Read on to understand what causes tinnitus, when you should report it to your Audiologist and how various external factors may influence this condition.
Everything You Should Know about Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a symptom, not a condition in itself. It is typically an indication of an underlying issue, such as, a problem with your ear, hearing loss, an issue with another system in your body or a side effect of medication. According to the American Tinnitus Association (ATA), there are approximately 200 different health disorders that could trigger tinnitus as a symptom.
A) Types of Tinnitus
- Subjective tinnitus, which is the most common type, is the one in which only you can hear the sounds in your ear, in the absence of an external source.
- Objective tinnitus is when someone who is sitting next to you can also hear your tinnitus. This is a fairly rare type of tinnitus, and is often stemming from a physical cause, rather than being from an acoustic nature.
B) What Commonly Causes Tinnitus?
The causes of tinnitus are still being researched. There are still about 40% of tinnitus cases in which the specific cause is unknown. That said, here are some of the most common causes:
- Inner ear hair cell damage: If the tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear are bent or broken, the theory is that they tend to leak ‘random’ electrical impulses from your auditory nerve to your brain, which the brain interprets as sound. Since these impulses occur randomly, even when there is no external sound, they become perceived sounds that only you can hear.
- Earwax blockage: While ear wax traps dirt and slows the bacterial growth in your ear canal, excess earwax accumulation can cause irritation and hearing loss, which can then lead to tinnitus. On that note, earwax removal may also be tricky. Can using cotton buds cause tinnitus? Technically the answer is yes. Incorrect use of cotton swabs could push the earwax further inside, causing a blockage that can trigger tinnitus. Your best option is to consult with your Audiologist or Physician to see how best your earwax can be removed, and confirm if that was the underlying issue for your tinnitus.
- Changes in the ear bones: Some genetic issues could cause the bones in your middle ear to grow abnormally or stiffen. This can be the underlying reason for tinnitus.
- Age-related hearing loss: As you age, your natural hearing abilities gradually worsen, especially after 60 years of age. Damage in your hearing can cause tinnitus, or increasingly worsen the tinnitus that was already present.
- Noise-induced hearing loss: Being exposed to loud noises can not only cause damage to your hearing, but also cause tinnitus. Clinically speaking, about 85-90% of our patients who have a long history of noise exposure, also experience tinnitus.
C) Can Tinnitus Be Temporary?
At times, certain factors may lead to temporary perception of sounds in your ears.
- Exposure to loud sounds: Attending a loud music concert or having a night out at a bar may cause temporary tinnitus, which lasts only a day or two. When this happens, it typically causes temporary hearing loss. That said, if you listen to music at a high volume for long hours, or work in a very noisy environment, the constant exposure to loud sounds could trigger permanent hearing loss, and often chronic tinnitus as well.
- Medications: High doses of certain medications are known to cause acute, short-lived tinnitus that usually lasts for the duration of your drug usage. Once the patient stops taking the medication, the tinnitus almost completely vanish. However, in case of certain ‘ototoxic drugs’ the ringing may or may not completely stop, even after you stop using the medication. Consult with your Physician or Pharmacist if you think your tinnitus may be caused by one of your current medications.
- Allergies: Is it true that allergies can cause hearing loss and tinnitus? From seasonal changes and environmental factors, to food or insect bites, there are various reasons that may bring on an allergic reaction within your body. Many of these allergies can impact your outer, middle or inner ear; causing:
- itching or swelling of the ear canal
- a feeling of fullness or clogged ears
- build-up of fluid pressure in the ears
Any such itching, swelling, ear pain or ear pressure could trigger temporary tinnitus and hearing loss. Once your allergic reaction subsides, the sounds in your ear should also go away and you hearing should be restored.
D) Other Common Causes of Tinnitus:
Meniere’s disease, Acoustic Neuroma, head traumas (concussions) and neck injuries (which can affect the inner ear or hearing related brain functions), jaw problems (often seen in people who grind or clench their teeth), etc.
E) When does Tinnitus require Medical Attention?
Everyone who experiences tinnitus should consult an Audiologist for a Complete Hearing Assessment. The results of the test and the information given within the case history will help determine where your tinnitus may be coming from, and which rehabilitation option is the best in your situation.
F) Living with Tinnitus
Does tinnitus go away? Sometimes. It really depends on the source of the tinnitus. If your tinnitus is stemming from a physical source such as your head (concussion) or your jaw, it is worth consulting with Health Professionals such as Physiotherapist, who has specialised in treating those areas of the body. If they can find the source, they may be able to help you get rid of it, or perhaps diminish its presence and provide you with some relief. That said, a hearing test is always to first step to eliminate the hearing system as the culprit for the onset of your tinnitus.
If your tinnitus comes from an acoustic nature, it usually comes with hearing loss. In this case, hearing aids can usually help manage it. In fact, your Audiologist can set you up with devices that come with built-in tinnitus programs. In many cases, the hearing devices alone can help reduce the intensity of the symptoms. Some patients have even commented no longer hearing their tinnitus within minutes of wearing the hearing aids. For others, it may take longer for the brain to refocus and pay less attention to the perceived sounds in their ears. If acoustic assistance is insufficient, your Audiologist may recommend professional counselling for more in-depth understanding, rehabilitation and management of tinnitus.
Your reaction towards your tinnitus also plays a critical role in the effectiveness of the treatment. When you constantly analyse your tinnitus, you are allowing your brain to continuously think about it, and therefore you notice it even more. You end up in a loop of “fight or flight” response. The goal in tinnitus rehabilitation is to distract your brain from listening to it and making your brain understand that is it not a significant sound in your environment. This is not an easy task, so using other strategies such as counselling, use of environmental tinnitus masking strategies (using a TV, radio or fan in the background), or use of hearing aids can be very helpful.
When does Tinnitus become an Urgent Matter?
If you suddenly wake up with tinnitus, or it comes on at random and you have never had it before, contact an Audiology clinic immediately! There are conditions, such as Sudden Onset Hearing Loss, where people typically notice a sudden drop in hearing in one ear, which is usually accompanied by tinnitus as well. This situation requires immediate treatment within 48 hours to have the best chances at restoring the hearing and getting rid of the tinnitus. Basically, the rule of thumb is that you contact an Audiologist for an emergency appointment as soon as you notice the occurrence of any sudden symptoms with your hearing or your ears.
Take the First Step to Manage Your Tinnitus – Book a Hearing Test Today!
As per Statistics Canada, four out of every ten adult Canadians experience some degree of tinnitus, such as ringing, buzzing, humming or roaring sounds in the ears. While tinnitus is highly prevalent, not many people actually report it to their healthcare providers. In fact, many falsely believe that there is nothing that can be done to help it, and that acoustic assistant devices, such as hearing aids, make tinnitus worse.
Why live with tinnitus if you can get help to reduce it or manage it better? The qualified and experienced Audiologists at Echo Audiology can provide you with the right information, counselling, strategies and devices to help tackle your tinnitus, whatever the cause may be. Take your first step by booking a hearing test with us today, so you can more information about your tinnitus.
For a Tinnitus Consultation at Echo Audiology, your local, independent and trusted Orléans Audiology Clinic, call 613-841-3033 or contact us online.