Tinnitus (Ringing in the Ears)

If you experience a ringing in the ears or roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing sounds when no external sound is present, it could be tinnitus. Tinnitus can occur in one or both ears, as well as somewhere in your head and can be soft or loud, low or high in pitch.

Experts estimate that approximately 10 percent of the adult population in the United States (22.7 million people) experience tinnitus for more than three months. According to the American Tinnitus Association, 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree. For 16 million people, it is severe enough that they seek medical attention, and for 2 million people, it is very serious and impacts their ability to function on a daily basis.

Discover tinnitus risk factors, symptoms, treatment/prevention options

Causes & Risk Factors

Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom. Tinnitus does not necessarily mean something is wrong with your ears or you have a hearing loss, but in a research study by Heller and Bergman, they found that 94% of people with normal hearing actually have tinnitus. They also proved that when you are in a quiet environment, your brain is able to pick up on soft level sounds occurring in your ear or head, but we don't notice it when we are in a noisy environment. Most people start to notice their tinnitus when the go to bed at night or early in the morning when the first wake up, when the world is at rest. If you have an untreated hearing loss, you may be able to hear your tinnitus more as you are living in a quieter world. Tinnitus can be exacerbated by increased stress levels alone, recent colds or stuffiness, untreated hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, or medicines taken for other health issues. Over 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus, but it can also be linked to earwax blocking the ear canal or a number of other health conditions, including the following:

  • Noise-induced hearing loss
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
  • Ménierè's disease
  • Brain tumors
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Thyroid abnormalities
Tinnitus Symptoms

It’s important to remember that tinnitus itself is a symptom, often of damage to the ears and hearing. However, if you are asking yourself, “Do I have tinnitus?” read the description below to determine if it is something you are experiencing.

People often think of tinnitus as just ringing in the ears, but it can actually present as much more, including:

  • Roaring
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Whistling
  • Beeping
  • A musical sound in the ears.

The noise can impact one or both ears, and it can range in pitch, volume, and frequency. These perceived noises can be so severe that they impact the ability to hear, work, or even sleep.

Treatment Options

The ideal treatment option for your tinnitus will depend on its cause, and on your current hearing ability. For many people, hearing aids relieve tinnitus. Why?

  • Hearing aids can amplify external sounds which mask the tinnitus
  • Hearing external sounds can distract the brain from focusing too much on the noise
  • Hearing aids with tinnitus relief can play ambient noise or music to soothe tinnitus

Treatment may also include sound generator machines that provide a steady background of comfort sound to be used in sound therapy for retraining therapies, medicines, or even counseling, relaxation therapy, or biofeedback. There are even applications for smartphones or tablets that help reduce tinnitus by playing sounds that may help in the desensitization process. Other sound-generating machines in the house such as fish tanks, fans, low-volume music, and indoor waterfalls may also be helpful ways to manage tinnitus.

Prevention

You have probably already noticed that activities such as concerts, sports games, and using power tools cause or worsen your tinnitus. The best way to prevent an increase in bothersome tinnitus is to avoid prolonged exposure to loud noises as much as possible. If you have to shout to be heard, the environment is probably too loud and should be avoided, or you need to wear hearing protection. Earplugs and earmuffs can be especially effective at protecting your ears. You should also be sure to always take medications only as directed.

Living With Tinnitus

Living with tinnitus may be challenging at times. Ongoing noise is disruptive and affects a person's ability to hear, work, or even sleep. It is a growing problem for musicians and people in the military. According to the American Tinnitus Association, tinnitus is the number one service-connected disability for veterans from all periods of service.

If you have bothersome tinnitus and/or sound sensitivity issues, talking with a healthcare provider that is appropriately trained in tinnitus management and sound therapies is a good place to start. Depending on the severity of tinnitus and other sound sensitivity issues that are present, other hearing healthcare providers may also be able to help using hearing aids, sound machines, medicines, and even noise coping techniques.

Use our provider locator tool to find a hearing healthcare professional nearby who can help you.

Additional Tinnitus Resources

Visit the American Tinnitus Association website to join their support network, read articles in their magazines, and find out more about their commitment to find a cure for tinnitus. They are invested in research and the site is a terrific resource for people living with tinnitus.

Use our provider locator tool to find a hearing healthcare professional nearby who can help.