The definition of tinnitus is simple: it’s the perception of noise in your ears or head, when there actually is no sound. It may be a whine, a whistle, a screech, or the sound of insects. Some sufferers call it “ringing in the ears,” or simply “head noise.”
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had it a long time or are just starting to deal with it; tinnitus can be frightening and frustrating, and it invades every aspect of your life. It’s sound—most often high-pitched—that you can’t get away from. It’s always there, unchanging, constant, and inescapable. And it’s all too common: at some point, it’s a problem for one person in five.
You can pronounce tinnitus either way: ti-night-us or tin-i-tus. The word comes from Latin, and means “to ring or tinkle like a bell.” Either way you pronounce it is correct.
Types of tinnitus
There are two different kinds of tinnitus. In subjective tinnitus, only the patient can “hear” the sounds. Most patients have this type of tinnitus, as it is the most common. In objective tinnitus, other people can hear the ear or head noises too. A sensitive enough microphone even can record these sounds.
What is the cause of ringing in the ears?
Doctors don’t fully understand exactly what causes tinnitus; the phenomenon is not well understood by anyone. However, observations indicate a number of factors and conditions that either cause tinnitus or make it worse:
- Noise exposure is the most common factor that goes along with tinnitus. Noise exposure causes hearing loss, and hearing loss often is associated with tinnitus. This kind of hearing loss results from damage to hair cells in the inner ear. Once the hair cells are damaged they don’t repair themselves, and tinnitus often results.
- Loud music is one of the most common types of noise exposure. See Loud Music – How Loud Is Too Loud? to learn which famous pop musicians suffer from tinnitus.
- Some types of tumors can cause tinnitus, including acoustic neuromas.
- Other, unrelated disorders such as Lyme disease, fibromyalgia, and hyper- or hypothyroidism may produce tinnitus.
- Wax buildup in your ears sometimes can cause tinnitus.
- Physical trauma to your neck and head can set off tinnitus. In this case, tinnitus may be accompanied by memory loss, vertigo and headaches.
- Cardiovascular disease can cause head noises.
- Some medications are ototoxic, which means they’re damaging to some part of the inner ear. This damage can result in tinnitus. Other medications have tinnitus as a side effect; in most cases, this kind of tinnitus disappears when you stop taking the medication, but higher doses of some of these medications may produce permanent tinnitus. Drugs That Cause Tinnitus
- Misalignment of the jaw can cause head noises.
- A rare kind of tinnitus called pulsatile tinnitus is caused by abnormal blood flow in veins or arteries near the inner ear, or by irregularities in the brain structure such as brain tumors. It also can be a side effect of conditions that cause increased intracranial pressure. This type of tinnitus sounds like a rhythmic pulsing in the ear, usually in time with the patient’s heartbeat.
No cure for ringing in the ears
Although tinnitus itself can’t be cured, there are ways to manage some types of tinnitus. See Tinnitus Treatments. Some kinds can be managed by treating whatever the underlying problem is, or by changing medication. However, the outcome of any treatment depends in part on what’s actually causing the tinnitus, how long the patient has had it, and other health issues involved.
Some scientists are concentrating on Tinnitus Reseach so that more options will slowly become available. Researchers at University of Texas at Dallas are also exploring ways to help anyone who suffers from ringing in the ears.
And Doctors who study such things say that magnesium helps protect hearing, and people who take it every day may experience a reduction in tinnitus symptoms.
Dr Rauschecker looks at why Why Do Some People With Hearing Loss Develop Tinnitus.