Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 15 to 20 percent of the population. Tinnitus isn’t a condition itself, but a symptom of an underlying condition such as age-related hearing loss, injury, or circulatory system disorder.
Although bothersome, tinnitus isn’t usually a sign of something serious. Although it can worsen with age, for many people tinnitus can improve with treatment. Treating and identified underlying cause sometimes helps, and other treatments can reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.
A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus. In many cases, an exact cause is never found.
A common cause of tinnitus is inner ear hair cell damage. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
Other causes of tinnitus include other ear problems, chronic health conditions, and injuries or conditions that affect the nerves in your ear or the hearing center in your brain.
In many cases, an exact cause is never found.
Common causes of tinnitus
In many people, tinnitus is caused by one of these conditions:
Age-related hearing loss. For many people, hearing worsens with age, usually starting around age 60. Hearing loss can cause tinnitus. The medical term for this type of hearing loss is presbycusis.
Exposure to loud noise. Loud noises, such as those from heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, are common sources of noise-related hearing loss. Portable music devices, such as MP3 players or iPods, also can cause noise-related hearing loss if played loudly for long periods. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure, such as attending a loud concert, usually goes away; both short- and long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
Earwax blockage. Earwax protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. When too much earwax accumulates, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally, causing hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum, which can lead to tinnitus.
Ear bone changes. Stiffening of the bones in your middle ear (otosclerosis) may affect your hearing and cause tinnitus. This condition, caused by abnormal bone growth, tends to run in families.
When to see a doctor
If you have tinnitus that bothers you, see your Audiologist at Eldorado Audiology and Hearing Center.
Make an appointment if:
You develop tinnitus after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and your tinnitus doesn’t improve within a week
See your Audiologist as soon as possible if:
You have tinnitus that occurs suddenly or without an apparent cause
You have hearing loss or dizziness with the tinnitus