If you experience a ringing in your ears, you are not alone. Almost everyone has experienced tinnitus at some point in their life, mostly after being exposed to very loud sounds like a rock concert or a fireworks display. What tinnitus sounds like can take many forms. Although it is mostly characterized as a tonal noise, it can also sound like buzzing or clicking, even roaring, hissing or whirring sounds. Any experience of hearing noise that has no external source is categorized as tinnitus. The presence of tinnitus could indicate hearing damage, although not all injury to our hearing produces tinnitus.
Tinnitus can be a temporary condition, but for many people tinnitus is a near constant concern. Approximately 15 percent of Americans, around 40 million people, experience the phantom sounds characteristic of chronic tinnitus. For nearly half of people with chronic tinnitus they experience tinnitus sounds for 80% of their day or more, encompassing most of their daily life.
Chronic tinnitus can hurt your quality of life, affecting your mood and concentration. It often becomes a persistent distraction from important tasks, and can hurt your education, your professional life, and even your personal relationships. Around 20% of chronic tinnitus sufferers report that they consider the condition disabling.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is related to auditory damage but how that occurs can vary. For many people, tinnitus is related to hazardous noise exposure. Tinnitus can also be caused by head and neck injuries, certain medications with “ototoxic” side effects and genetic malformations of the ear.
In rare cases of tinnitus, the persistent sound is caused by issues in the middle ear that produce a ringing sound that is faintly audible to other people. For the most part, however, tinnitus is created when sensory cells are mistakenly triggered to sending signals to the brain and not based in any sound from the external world.
Tinnitus and Hearing Loss
Tinnitus can become more pronounced in people who struggle with hearing loss. Chronic tinnitus noise can drown out other speech and sound and make healthy hearing even more difficult and elusive. Tinnitus sounds that already seem loud can seem even louder when other sounds are perceived as muffled or dampened by hearing loss.
For people with hearing loss, controlling the intrusiveness of tinnitus can feel even more difficult than for people with normal hearing, and it can compound the many negative effects of hearing loss. Because tinnitus is rooted in hearing damage, the combination of tinnitus and hearing loss is incredibly common. Around 9 out of 10 people with tinnitus are also dealing with significant hearing loss. Both hearing loss and tinnitus can increase your risk of depression, isolation and anxiety.
While there is currently no cure for tinnitus, a number of new strategies have been developed to help people suppress tinnitus’ intrusion into their lives. Tinnitus can now be effectively managed, often with a combination of helpful therapies.
Take Action Today
Living with tinnitus can get easier if you take action. When you experience chronic tinnitus, your first step should be to schedule a comprehensive hearing exam. A hearing test can help establish the cause of your tinnitus, along with looking for other hearing issues.