Tinnitus is the condition in which one experiences sounds without the stimulus of an external noise source. Tinnitus is commonly referred to as a "ringing of the ears," but it is not necessarily always a ringing sound. The sound is personal and differs from person to person. It has been described as a whoosh of air; a cracking; a buzz; a pop; a crack; a roar; and in some cases, even some measures of music.
Tinnitus has proven to be particularly hard for the medical community to study. It can't be measured like blood pressure or eyesight, and results from study to study are inconsistent because of the variability of patients' experiences – the type of sound, which ears are affected, whether it's debilitating, the duration, even the patient's age.
Most people have had a brush with tinnitus. For example, if you have ever been to a live concert and woken up the next morning with a strange ringing in your ears, you've experienced a form of temporary tinnitus, lasting just a few minutes or longer. With more serious cases, tinnitus can be incredibly frustrating and distracting. People with chronic tinnitus might suffer from anxiety, stress, depression, and even lack of sleep. This could interfere with concentration, memory, and productivity as well.
Tinnitus may be temporary or chronic. Risk factors for tinnitus include smoking, cardiovascular problems, exposure to loud noise, and gender (men are more likely to experience tinnitus). Tinnitus is a frustrating and life-altering condition, especially for people who experience chronic cases. While there is no definitive cure for tinnitus, seeking treatment for related medical issues and addressing hearing loss might alleviate some of the symptoms of tinnitus.
Tinnitus is a distracting condition, often causing frustration. Especially in cases where tinnitus is chronic, tinnitus has been linked to elevated levels of stress and anxiety. It may also contribute to sleep deprivation, as the sounds may be distracting as people fall asleep. Tinnitus has adverse effects in the workplace, causing memory problems and a decreased level of productivity.
Our hearing happens in the brain — not the ears — contrary to popular belief. Sound waves from our environment are picked up by the outer ear. Then, sound waves travel through our ear canals and reach our ear drums. At this point, our ear drums amplify sounds which then travel to the inner ear, where the vibrations are picked up by inner ear hair cells.
Our inner ear hair cells are responsible for translating vibrations into neural signals that are sent to the brain to be registered as sound. If these sensitive cells are damaged, this breaks down the auditory process. Inner ear hair cells do not regenerate once they are damaged.
Tinnitus is quite common in hearing loss cases. If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is important to see a hearing specialist, as they may be able to identify related auditory issues. Though hearing specialists have not identified a definitive cure for tinnitus, there are treatment options available in the form of hearing aids that train your brain to mask these sounds. Often times, by addressing the hearing loss, you may find some comfort from your chronic tinnitus.
Problems Causing Tinnitus