What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears when there is no external noise present. It can often sound like ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing, or humming. It is often a symptom of an underlying condition such as age- or noise-related hearing loss or ear injury. Around 15-20% of people are affected by tinnitus to some capacity. Tinnitus can become a chronic condition, lasting for years. It can also be situational, lasting for a few hours such as the case when a person experiences ringing after a loud concert.
If you are able to identify root causes for your tinnitus, treating the underlying condition could help alleviate your tinnitus. However, many people who have tinnitus may not be able to identify the exact cause of their tinnitus. There are still treatments available to help distract and alleviate the tinnitus.
Causes of Tinnitus
There are a variety of different causes of tinnitus. However, as mentioned previously, many people will not be able to identify the exact cause of their tinnitus.
A common cause of tinnitus and hearing loss is inner ear hair cell damage. To register sound, there are several actions happening inside your ear. Sound travels through your ear canal and causes fluid in your ears to vibrate. These vibrations are picked up by hair-like sensory cells in your inner ear and are translated into electrical signals. These electrical signals are then picked up by the auditory nerve and are finally sent to the brain, where it’s processed as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
Some other common causes of tinnitus are:
Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis): As people age, their hearing ability usually starts deteriorating. Older adults aged 60+ tend to experience bilateral high-frequency hearing loss, and this explains partly why many elderly adults have tinnitus.
Exposure to loud noise: Repeated exposure to loud noise can damage our inner ear, resulting in noise-induced hearing loss and/or tinnitus, ringing in the ear. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), repeated exposure to noise above 85 decibels is dangerous and can lead to hearing loss. For your reference, 85 decibels is the sound of heavy city traffic or a lawnmower.
Earwax buildup: When too much earwax accumulates inside the ear, it’s harder to wash away naturally, which can cause irritation of the eardrum or hearing loss, which can then result in tinnitus.
Ear bone changes: Stiffening of the bones in your middle ear may affect your hearing and cause tinnitus. This condition is caused by abnormal bone growth and tends to be genetic.
Less common causes of tinnitus are:
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorders
- Head injuries or neck injuries
- Acoustic neuroma
- Eustachian tube dysfunction
- Muscle spasms in the inner ear
What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?
Tinnitus may sound like ringing, screeching, hissing, or roaring. It may also sound like sirens, static, buzzing, clicking, crickets, whooshing, pulsing, ocean waves, dial tones, or even music. However, these sounds may change and intertwine with one another.
Because tinnitus produces such a wide range of sounds and every person has a different experience with it, audiologists must customize tinnitus treatments. We understand the difficulties of living with tinnitus and the importance of maintaining healthy hearing.
To prevent tinnitus or hearing loss, we can take precautions to protect our ears from the sounds in our environment and surroundings. Remembering to wear earplugs in extremely noisy environments like at concerts or sporting events can help as they are inexpensive as well. If you are not sure about what type of hearing protection is the best fit for you, consider consulting a hearing healthcare professional.
Thank you for reading about what tinnitus sounds like and how you can take preventative steps to ensure that you have healthy hearing. We hope that this was informative and helped you better understand the various experiences that may occur if you have tinnitus.
As previously mentioned, the signs and symptoms listed here do not replace formal audiometry conducted by your doctor. Be sure to have your hearing tested regularly with a hearing healthcare professional. Together, you can develop an individualized plan to prevent, protect, and better manage your hearing health.
AudioCardio is a technology company focused on hearing health and wellness. Learn how AudioCardio can help maintain and strengthen your hearing with your favorite headphones or hearing aids at www.audiocardio.com.