Tinnitus Overview

If you have tinnitus, you know it. Tinnitus is a phantom ringing, buzzing, whooshing or whistling sound in one or both of your ears. Tinnitus affects people differently. For some with tinnitus, the issue is simply a slightly bothersome fact of life. For others, tinnitus can be extremely aggravating, and can cause anxiety and disturbances in daily life.

Definition of Tinnitus


Tinnitus is defined as “the perception of noise or ringing in the ears.” Tinnitus is described as a “perception of noise” because although it sounds extremely real, the ringing or buzzing one hears is not actually a physical sound in one’s environment. Instead, the brain of a person with tinnitus incorrectly perceives these sounds for mostly unknown reasons. Tinnitus itself is not a disease; instead, it is almost always the symptom of another underlying health issue, most commonly hearing loss.


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There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is the perception of sound in the absence of an acoustic stimulus, and can only be heard by the person experiencing it. This is the most common type of tinnitus. Objective tinnitus is rare, and results from noise generated by structures near the ear. If this type of tinnitus is loud enough, it may be heard by the examiner.

Symptoms of Tinnitus


As mentioned above, tinnitus is the sensation of hearing noises in one or both of your ears that is not actually in your environment. Tinnitus can sound like hissing, ringing, buzzing, roaring or clicking. Some people with tinnitus hear extremely high pitches while others experiences lower or mixed pitches. The sounds can be present all of the time or they can come and go; however, most people with tinnitus experience the worst symptoms when they are in a quiet room or attempting to sleep at night. Some people with tinnitus experience the symptoms so severely it affects their ability to accurately hear other noises around them, or affects their ability to concentrate on daily tasks.

Prevalence of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a very common problem in the United States, affecting about 50 million Americans. According to the most recently available data from the CDC, it is estimated that about 15% of the US population has experienced tinnitus in the past year. Of these, 30% of respondents report that their tinnitus is a “moderate” or “very big” problem in their life (source: American Tinnitus Association). Tinnitus is also a prevalent issue amongst our veterans. In fact, tinnitus is the number one most commonly reported injury amongst veterans returning from active duty.

Causes of Tinnitus


For about 90% of people with tinnitus, the underlying cause is hearing loss. Tinnitus can be caused by noise induced hearing loss or hearing loss caused by natural aging. Tinnitus can also be a side effect of certain medications such as certain antibiotics, cancer medications, and diuretics. Some less common health conditions such as Meniere’s disease, TMJ, and head or neck injuries have been linked to tinnitus.
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Treatment for Tinnitus


Unfortunately, there is not currently a cure for tinnitus. There are, however, multiple treatment options that have shown great improvement for people who suffer from tinnitus.
  • Hearing Aids

    Many of today’s hearing aids are equipped with powerful, built-in tinnitus treatment options that include therapies and sound masking systems. Because most people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, hearing aids are a great treatment option.

  • Sound Masking Devices

    Sound masking devices are also successful treatment options for people with tinnitus. These devices create sounds that were specifically formulated to help mask the annoying sounds of tinnitus and are most often used to help people sleep at night.

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

    Cognitive behavioral therapy is a successful treatment option for some people as well. Cognitive behavioral therapy helps those with tinnitus better deal with their emotional response to the annoying ringing or buzzing. This type of therapy also helps sufferers direct their focus away from the tinnitus.

  • Meditation and Other Lifestyle Changes

    Meditation and other lifestyle changes have successfully helped alleviate tinnitus for many people. For some, lifestyle changes including increased sleep and decreased alcohol intake have helped to relieve the ringing or buzzing. Similarly, stress reduction can help substantially.

If you have tinnitus, it is important to take a hearing assessment. Almost all cases of tinnitus have hearing loss as the underlying issue, meaning it can likely be alleviated with the use of hearing aids!


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