Tinnitus: Did you hear that?

July 25, 2016

Have you ever heard a high-pitched ringing or buzzing sound in your ears? Some describe it as a whooshing sound or something that resembles a hissing sound, like air escaping a tire. Still others hear it as a roaring or pulsing sound. However you describe it, you’re not alone. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimate that nearly 50 million Americans experience some sort of head noise to some degree at least occasionally. 1 Of the 50 million sufferers of tinnitus, nearly 16 million experience it severely enough to seek medical attention. So, what is the ringing? Where does it come from? Is there a cure? Over the next several posts, I’d like to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about that annoying ringing sound, called tinnitus, and provide some insight into possible causes. And, if you’re one of the unlucky millions to suffer with tinnitus, take heart. Research into a long-term cure continues and several innovative treatments are available that are proving successful in decreasing the effects of tinnitus.

The word “tinnitus” comes from a Latin word meaning “to tinkle like a bell.” It is the perception of sound when there is no actual sound present. The word itself is pronounced TIN –i-tus by some and tin-ITIS by others. The correct pronunciation is debatable. In my opinion, it’s a case of To-MAE-to/To-MAH-to. However you say it, tinnitus is annoying for most and can interrupt sleep, affect mood and disrupt productivity at work and relationships at home. Even stress and depression are known to be associated with tinnitus. If you experience tinnitus, have your hearing checked by an audiologist. It’s the first step toward understanding a possible cause and to finding some relief.

A thorough evaluation can give insight into the possible cause of the ringing sound you experience in your ears, but there is no known cure. Tinnitus is not a condition in itself but a symptom of something else occurring in the body, such as hearing loss in the high frequencies, circulatory issues, jaw problems or a medical issue like a head or neck injury. Once you know the probable cause, your audiologist can discuss lifestyle modifications to improve the tinnitus and review the options for reducing the noise or at least the effects of the noise.

It’s also helpful to spend some time researching tinnitus; its causes and treatments. Sometimes, just having a bit of knowledge about what’s happening to you can decrease the aggravation and stress that not knowing can cause. In the next several posts, I hope to help you on that journey. We’ll begin with the two most common questions: What is Tinnitus and What Causes Tinnitus?

1 Data from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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