Tinnitus, or ringing in your ear, is a common problem affecting about 15-20% of people. It is more commonly experienced by older adults and can be a source of discomfort.
Tinnitus is the perception of sound in the ears or head that is not caused by an external sound source. Those living with the condition may experience a buzzing or ringing in one ear or both, or the sound may appear to be generally in the head region. It’s not an illness or a disease in itself, but it is often a symptom of a problem within the ear or the hearing pathways to the brain.
There are four different types of tinnitus: subjective, neurological, somatic and objective, with each having a different root cause. Subjective tinnitus is the most common form of the condition and develops following exposure to excessive noise. Neurological tinnitus develops due to a disorder affecting the brain’s ability to process sound. Somatic tinnitus is linked to the sensory system, while objective tinnitus is triggered by vascular deformities or involuntary muscle movement.
Tinnitus is often described as a ‘ringing in the ears’, but what people with this condition hear is highly variable. Some people hear hissing, whooshing, roaring, whistling or clicking. It can be intermittent or constant, single or multiple tones or more noise-like. The most common description of noise-induced tinnitus is a high pitched tone or noise.
The volume or loudness of the sounds heard varies between individuals and can range from very quiet to disturbingly loud. Although some people say that it comes and goes or as a tone that changes pitch throughout the day, for most, it is a steady, unchanging noise that is present during every waking minute.
Tinnitus typically develops after the inner ear is damaged or impaired somehow. Some potential causes of tinnitus include:
Tinnitus has also been linked to various illnesses, injuries and health conditions. Some of these conditions include:
Tinnitus can develop gradually over time or occur suddenly. Symptoms can also suddenly appear, causing people to question why they have a ringing in their ears.
Although anyone can experience tinnitus, several risk factors may increase your chances of developing the condition. Common risk factors of tinnitus include:
Tinnitus can often be diagnosed by an audiologist or hearing health professional based on the symptoms a patient describes. This being said, however, further investigation may be required to identify and treat the cause of the condition if an underlying health issue is thought to be present.
Several different tests are used to help diagnose tinnitus and its causes, including:
While testing can help find the root cause of tinnitus in some patients, for others, a definite cause may never be found. If this is the case for you, your hearing health professional can provide some practical tips to help you manage your symptoms.
If you have tinnitus symptoms, book a free hearing test at your local Amplifon clinic. Our friendly hearing health experts can get you started on your hearing health journey, from testing to treatment.
Approximately 1 in 3 people in Australia will suffer from tinnitus at some point in their life, and about 1 in 6 have constant tinnitus symptoms.
About 90 per cent of cases of tinnitus occur with an underlying hearing loss. The World Health Organisation (WHO) now lists tinnitus as a distinct disorder and states that noise exposure is a significant cause of permanent hearing loss worldwide. Recent research confirms that it is the second most common form of hearing loss after age-related hearing loss. Prevalence increases with age, but experiences of it are prevalent in all age groups, especially following exposure to loud noise.
Close to half of those who live with tinnitus find it moderately or severely distressing. You may suffer debilitating symptoms such as anxiety, depression or sleep disturbances. It can be confusing and even frightening when it occurs for the first time, but it is rarely a symptom of a serious disorder. If it lasts for longer than a week or affects your concentration, sleep or anxiety levels, book an appointment with your GP or with your local Amplifon audiologist or audiometrist.
Although not all cases of tinnitus can be prevented, some behaviours may help lessen your risk of developing the condition. Some preventative measures include:
Tinnitus is not a disease or a cause of hearing loss. It is a symptom that something is wrong somewhere in the auditory system, including the cochlea of the inner ear, the auditory nerve and the areas of the brain that process sound. In about 90% of cases, it accompanies hearing loss and an individual can experience both hearing loss and tinnitus from noise damage, but the two do not always occur together. It is possible to have no measurable hearing loss but suffer from the condition.
Hearing aids can help manage tinnitus as they assist in overcoming any underlying hearing loss. By reducing the amount of attention your brain is paying to the ringing in your ears, in most cases, hearing aids can provide some tinnitus relief.
Find out more about tinnitus treatment, its causes, and other disorders.