Understanding Tinnitus

Colorado Tinnitus and Hearing Center, Inc. specializes in the treatment of tinnitus. Our Audiologists are skilled in the evaluation and treatment of tinnitus. If you or someone you know suffers from tinnitus, we urge you to contact our clinic today to schedule your tinnitus consultation and evaluation.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the term used to describe the condition of having ringing, buzzing, cricket, ocean, or other type of noise in the ear or originating from the head. The word tinnitus is Latin and literally means ringing. Tinnitus is an abnormal perception of a sound, which is reported by patients as being unrelated to an external source of stimulation. Tinnitus is a symptom, much like a headache, pain, temperature, hearing loss, or vertigo. With tinnitus, the reported distress is usually subjective and difficult to record and appreciate by others. Tinnitus will not cause you to go deaf, and statistically, 50 percent of patients may express that their tinnitus decreases or is hardly perceptible as time passes.

It can be constant or intermittent and is heard in one ear, both ears or in the head. Also, the quality may be multiple sounds or a singular sound. Tinnitus can originate in the middle ear (behind the eardrum) or in the sensorineural auditory system.

Tinnitus is a very common disorder, and may be:

  • Intermittent, constant, or fluctuating
  • Mild or severe
  • Varied in nature, from a low roaring sensation to a high-pitched type of sound
  • Associated with a hearing loss

Types of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is also classified further into subjective or objective types.

  • Subjective tinnitus – This is a noise perceived by the patient alone and is quite common.
  • Objective tinnitus – This is a noise perceived by the patient as well as by another listener. This form of tinnitus is relatively uncommon, and the location of tinnitus may be in the ear(s) and/or in the head.

Treating the Cause

Tinnitus can be caused by many things, and is usually a symptom of an underlying condition. It may occur with a hearing loss, vertigo, or pressure symptoms in the ear or it may occur alone. This condition must always be thought of as a symptom and not a disease, just as pain in the arm or leg is a symptom and not a disease. The treatment for your particular tinnitus will depend on the condition that is causing it, the severity, any accompanying issues such as hearing loss, and the impact the tinnitus has on daily activities.

Common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Stress and depression
  • Hearing loss
  • Exposure to loud noises (heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, portable music devices).
  • Earwax buildup or blockages
  • Abnormal bone growth in the ear (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).
  • Meniere’s disease (an inner ear disorder that may be caused by abnormal inner ear fluid pressure).
  • Head or neck injuries
  • Benign tumor of the cranial nerve (noncancerous (benign) tumor develops on the cranial nerve that runs from your brain to your inner ear and controls balance and hearing. Also called vestibular schwannoma, this condition generally causes tinnitus in only one ear).
  • TMJ disorders (Problems with the temperomandibular joint, the joint on each side of your head in front of your ears, where your lower jawbone meets your skull, can cause tinnitus).
  • A natural part of the aging process (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).
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension and factors that increase blood pressure, such as stress, alcohol and caffeine, can make tinnitus more noticeable).
  • As a side effect of medications (e.g. aspirin or other ototoxic drug)

In order to find out the root cause of your tinnitus, your physician or Audiologist will conduct a complete medical history, as well as a complete examination.

Impact of Tinnitus

Tinnitus affects every person differently. The most common areas in which tinnitus has a direct influence are:

  • Thoughts and emotions. Many people who suffer from tinnitus report being annoyed, bothered, depressed, anxious or angry about their tinnitus. They think and focus on their tinnitus frequently and are more disturbed in quiet environments.
  • Hearing. For some, the sound of the tinnitus competes with or masks speech or environmental sound perception.
  • Sleep. Many tinnitus sufferers report that their tinnitus interferes with their ability to get to sleep.  It can also make it more difficult to get back to sleep when they wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Concentration. Some tinnitus sufferers report that they have difficulty focusing on various tasks because of their tinnitus. This might include reading a book, newspaper, or attending to a task at work.