What Is Tinnitus?

What Is Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a medical issue that causes people to hear sounds in their heads or ears which do not originate from an external source. It’s commonly known as “ringing in the ears,” but can also be experienced as buzzing, hissing, roaring, clicking, chirping, or whistling noises. The intensity of tinnitus may vary from mild to severe and can last for just a short period or linger indefinitely. There are different causes of tinnitus, and tinnitus often comes alongside other communication disorders. It may also be a result of an ear infection, illness, or injury, and can be heard in either one or both ears.

Classifications Of Tinnitus

Tinnitus varies from individual to individual, but there are a few different ways that tinnitus can be classified:

  1. Source (primary/secondary)
  2. Timing (spontaneous, transient, occasional, intermittent, constant)
  3. Duration (recent/persistent)
  4. Impact (bothersome/nonbothersome)

Different Kinds Of Tinnitus

Tinnitus, an auditory condition that affects millions of people worldwide, is typically classified into two distinct types: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is the most frequently reported form, in which an individual perceives sound even when no external noise source exists. This type can be linked to damage inflicted on the microscopic hair cells lining inner ear organs, as these structures are essential for detecting and decoding sound waves from our environment.

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Compared to subjective tinnitus, objective tinnitus is much rarer and is generated by a physical sound that an examiner can detect. This ear buzzing or ringing usually originates from issues with blood flow, muscle spasms, or other bodily abnormalities.

Common Causes Of Tinnitus

Tinnitus may be instigated by a variety of root causes. The most common causes include:

  1. Exposure to loud noises. Exposure to loud sounds, such as music, machinery, or firearms, can damage the hair cells in the inner ear and lead to tinnitus. Exposure to loud noises can also worsen pre-existing tinnitus and cause further damage to the inner ear.
  2. Age-related hearing loss. As people age, the hair cells in the inner ear can naturally deteriorate, leading to decreases in hearing and tinnitus.
  3. Earwax blockage. A buildup of earwax can cause tinnitus by blocking the ear canal and impairing the ability to hear.
  4. Meniere’s disease. Episodes of vertigo, hearing loss, and tinnitus characterize Meniere’s disease. Tinnitus associated with Meniere’s disease is often described as a roaring or a rushing noise.
  5. Ototoxic drugs. Some medications, such as certain antibiotics, diuretics, chemotherapy drugs, and aspirin, can cause tinnitus. These effects can be either temporary or permanent. 

What Tests Can Diagnose Tinnitus?

If you are struggling with tinnitus, your audiologist and physician can conduct various assessments to get to the underlying cause. Such tests could include:

  1. Hearing tests. Your audiologist may perform a hearing test to determine if you have any changes to your hearing, including loss of function, impaired hearing, or hearing that might be considered abnormal. Other tests that are specific to your tinnitus perception and ability to tolerate external sounds can also be done to provide more information. Additionally, in certain circumstances, other tests that provide information about the health of your eardrums, hair cells, hearing nerve, and auditory pathways may be helpful.
  2. Imaging tests. Imaging tests, such as an MRI or CT scan, can help identify any structural abnormalities in the ear or brain that may be causing tinnitus; however, doctors will only order these tests under certain circumstances.
  3. Blood tests. Your doctor may perform tests to check for underlying medical conditions causing tinnitus, the most common being anemia and thyroid issues.

What Is Pulsatile Tinnitus?

Pulsatile tinnitus is a condition that causes one to hear rhythmic, pulsing sounds in time with their heartbeat. It’s generally the result of blood flow issues like atherosclerosis and vascular tumors in the head or neck area. Because these issues can be serious, any evidence of head or neck trauma, vascular concerns, or cardiovascular disease alongside tinnitus should be quickly and thoroughly evaluated by a physician.

Loud Noises That May Cause Tinnitus Or Hearing Loss

Constant exposure to loud noise can cause tinnitus or the loss of hearing. To help protect yourself from this health risk, be aware of these common sources of changes to hearing, including tinnitus:

  1. Concerts and music festivals
  2. Fireworks
  3. Gunfire
  4. Power tools
  5. Airplanes
  6. Motorcycles
  7. Car horns
  8. Sirens
  9. Construction sites
  10. Heavy machinery

Although you cannot remove yourself from many of these exposures entirely, limiting contact or taking protective measures such as limiting exposure time or wearing protective gear can help dramatically reduce your risk factors or save yourself from making tinnitus worse and causing further damage to the auditory system.

How To Tell If Tinnitus Is From the Middle Ear Or Inner Ear

Tinnitus may result from a problem in either the middle or inner ear. If an issue in the middle ear causes your tinnitus, you may experience additional symptoms, such as pain, infections, and pressure within your ears. On the other hand, if issues affect your inner ear, loss of hearing and balance problems might also be present.

Understanding The Basics Of Hearing Loss And Tinnitus

There is an established relationship between hearing loss and tinnitus. While one does not necessarily lead to the other,  the onset of tinnitus may augment existing cases of lost or diminished hearing. This condition can be caused by multiple facets, such as age-related deterioration, overexposure to loud sounds, or even genetic predisposition.

Tinnitus is a condition that can have various causes, as already discussed. To protect your hearing further and improve your quality of life, seeking tinnitus treatment and hearing loss treatment right away is critical.

Does Tinnitus Mean I Have Damage To the Inner Ear Or Auditory Nerve?

While tinnitus does not always infer permanent damage to the inner ear or auditory nerve, it is often linked to hearing changes brought on by harm inflicted upon your internal anatomy. If you are experiencing symptoms of tinnitus or noticing any changes to the way that you perceive or process sound, you must visit a doctor to establish the source and receive appropriate treatment. If standard hearing tests do not reveal any hearing issues, an array of specialized tests may be completed.

How To Tell If Tinnitus Is Caused By Age-Related Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a common issue as we age, and tinnitus can be one of its telltale signs. If you have been dealing with ringing or buzzing in your ears and are having trouble discerning high-pitched sounds or comprehending speech amidst background noise, it might indicate that you’re seeing changes to your hearing as a result of advancing age.

Take action now! When you experience symptoms, seek treatment to preserve your auditory health and elevate your lifestyle quality.

What Can Worsen Tinnitus?

When it comes to tinnitus, several elements can make matters worse, such as:

  • Stress. Stress and anxiety can worsen matters by increasing sound awareness.
  • Certain medications. Certain medications, such as aspirin and certain antibiotics, can increase symptoms of tinnitus.
  • Alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol and caffeine can make tinnitus worse by increasing blood flow to the ears and brain.
  • Fatigue. Fatigue can also contribute to increased tinnitus symptoms by increasing stress and reducing the body’s ability to cope with auditory signals and sounds.

What Are The Best Treatments For Tinnitus, Or Ringing In The Ears?

Although there is no current cure for tinnitus, fortunately, there are several treatments that can alleviate its symptoms. In fact, using these strategies, many individuals find that tinnitus is much less of a problem for them. Once someone goes on to develop tinnitus, the following interventions for hearing ringing in the ears can be implemented:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of therapy that can help change negative thoughts and behaviors related to tinnitus and any other medical condition that may be present. It may also include relaxation techniques that can help reduce stress.
  • Sound therapy. Treating tinnitus using sound therapy involves using external noises to help mask the sound of tinnitus and reduce awareness of the sound.
  • Medications. Some medications, such as antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications, can help to reduce tinnitus symptoms for some people. If tinnitus is related to high blood pressure, medication to treat that high blood pressure can also ease tinnitus symptoms. The effects of medication vary from person to person, and you should always consult with a healthcare professional before starting or stopping any medications.
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). TRT is a form of therapy that combines sound therapy and counseling to help people habituate to the sound of tinnitus to foster a sense of less noticeable tinnitus.
  • Alternative therapies. Some people find relief from tinnitus through alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hypnosis, or chiropractic care.

What Is Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT)?

People suffering from tinnitus can find relief with Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), which combines sound therapy and counseling. TRT allows individuals to learn how to manage their reactions to the external sounds associated with tinnitus, allowing them to perceive them as non-threatening sounds and decrease their prominence in daily life.

Are Hearing Aids An Effective Treatment For Tinnitus?

For those struggling with tinnitus, hearing aids can be an invaluable tool. Increasing the sounds of your external environment and decreasing the contrast between these outside noises and your internal experience of tinnitus have been scientifically proven to improve the overall quality of life. Check with your physician or audiologist to determine if this form of treatment is right for you to manage tinnitus.

What Are The Best Hearing Aids For Tinnitus?

Although the ideal aids for tinnitus may vary depending on individual needs and preferences, there are some key features to remember when selecting your device. When looking at options, make sure they have the following characteristics:

  • Sound therapy. Some hearing aids offer built-in sound therapy to help mask the sound of tinnitus.
  • Tinnitus management programs. Some hearing aids offer specific tinnitus management programs that can be customized to an individual’s needs.
  • Directional microphones. Directional microphones can help reduce background noise and improve speech understanding, which can help reduce the perception of tinnitus.
  • Wireless connectivity. Some hearing aids offer wireless connectivity to smartphones or other devices, allowing greater control over the hearing aid settings and access to additional features.

Where Can I Find A Good Hearing Aid For Tinnitus?

With many hearing aid buying options available, such as online stores, audiology clinics, and audiologists, it is essential to collaborate with a qualified healthcare practitioner to identify the right device that meets your needs. This will help guarantee appropriate fitting and programming for your chosen device. Additionally, although some providers may be able to provide services that will meet the needs of some people with hearing loss, audiologists are the qualified professionals who can best provide sound therapy for tinnitus.


Tinnitus is a common affliction that manifests as an auditory sensation in the ears or head that does not stem from any external origin. It can be spurred by any type of underlying cause, including loud sounds, a build-up of ear wax, typical aging, or certain medications known to damage the inner ear and lead to an inner ear disorder.

Unfortunately, tinnitus has no cure yet; however, some treatments can help control the symptoms. Sound therapy, medication, and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) are available to manage this condition. Additionally, if your tinnitus derives from hearing loss, wearing a hearing aid could be an effective solution, too! To ensure you receive the proper treatment, seek medical advice as soon as possible when experiencing any auditory disturbances or hearing decline.

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