What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the perception of sound that usually does not relate to an external cause. Tinnitus is very common, affecting about 15% to 20% of people, especially older adults.

What does tinnitus sound like?

Tinnitus noise can be a single tone or multi-tonal. Some people report chirping, roaring, whooshing, rattling or whistling sounds that may be persistent or intermittent. Tinnitus symptoms may vary in duration and intensity, and change over time. They can be mild, or can cause considerable distress, and disruption to life, work and relationships.

What are the causes of tinnitus?

Finding the cause of tinnitus, where possible, is the first step towards managing and treating it. There may be more than one contributing factor.

Hearing loss, can lead to altered nerve signaling and tinnitus as a result of natural aging or exposure to loud noise.  

Some medications, including some antibiotics and cancer drugs are ototoxic and can induce tinnitus. 

Earwax or infections that cause blockages in the ear canal or put pressure on the eardrum. 

Muscular or skeletal issues such as temporomandibular joint disorder, or injuries to the head or neck that impact the auditory pathways. 

Stressful life events, anxiety or depression can cause or worsen tinnitus. 

Rarely, tinnitus may also be sign of an underlying medical condition, so if you are experiencing tinnitus for the first time, or experiencing sudden changes, you should consult with your doctor to rule out certain causes.

How long does tinnitus last?

Tinnitus is sometimes temporary, and may resolve within a day or two. In other cases, tinnitus will persist and become long term. 

What are the different types of tinnitus?

Subjective tinnitus Only heard by the person experiencing it. May be linked to altered activity in auditory areas. Tinnitus may match the frequency of  hearing loss.

Objective tinnitus Caused by actual sounds of the body such as muscle contractions or changes in blood flow. May be audible to someone else, such as your doctor hearing  your tinnitus through a stethoscope.

Somatic tinnitus Arises from neck muscles, temporomandibular joint or other parts of your body. (Intensity or pitch of your tinnitus may change by clenching your jaw, or moving your head or neck.)

Pulsatile tinnitus Occurs in a rhythmic pattern such as heartbeat in any of the above tinnitus types.

What tinnitus treatments are available?

Depending on your tinnitus type and other factors such as your hearing level or tolerance for sound, there are various treatment options available to help you manage tinnitus.

Brain retraining techniques involve counseling, sound therapies, and other coping strategies designed to habituate people to ignore their tinnitus.

Sound maskers (noise generators) or hearing aids can mask or hide tinnitus noise, or make it less noticeable.

Lifestyle changes focus on reducing stress or improving overall health and wellness. 

Medications usually address anxiety or related conditions.

Electrical or electromagnetic stimulation devices directly target underlying causes of tinnitus including inflammation and brainwave activity.

Filtered notched music  ‘notches’ or filters out the user’s tinnitus frequency from music or sound files to stimulate nerve cells linked to tinnitus.

What should I do if I have tinnitus?

Tinnitus is not usually related to a serious underlying health problem, but if you have tinnitus for the first time, or have the following types of tinnitus, you should consult your doctor to rule out certain medical conditions: 

Unilateral tinnitus may be a sign of Idiopathic Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (ISSNHL) or Meniere’s disease, which need urgent medical treatment.

Pulsatile tinnitus is usually no cause for concern but can be caused by changes in blood pressure or other causes that may require immediate medical investigation.

Identifying the causes of your tinnitus will help you find the best treatment options and ways to stop your tinnitus recurring or getting worse. If your tinnitus is mild or very recent, there are also some simple steps that you can take to manage tinnitus at home.


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