Over 50 million Americans are thought to have tinnitus, with 40% of them suffering from a chronic version of the condition. Two million people have phantom sounds in their ears that are so extreme, their lives are disrupted by it.

In most cases, there’s no actual sound occurring. Most reasons for tinnitus are due to issues that cause your auditory nerves to pass false signals to the brain. Though there’s usually no cure, treatments exist that mask the phantom sounds or help you cope with distraction.

The first step is to visit a tinnitus specialist like the team at Hearing & Balance Services of Reston. We can check the condition of your ears and hearing, including a check for earwax blockage, one of the few conditions that can be treated to eliminate tinnitus. Once the signs and symptoms of your tinnitus are assessed, you can review the treatment options open to you.

The sounds of tinnitus

Though it’s commonly called “ringing in the ears,” ringing describes only one type of sound you can experience when you have tinnitus. Other sounds commonly experienced are described as:

  • Buzzing
  • Clicking
  • Hissing
  • Humming
  • Roaring
  • Whooshing

Sounds can be constant, or they may come and go. Sometimes, you may experience a tinnitus sound under certain conditions, such as when you’re exposed to loud noises, like on a factory floor or at a concert. It’s possible to have more than one type of tinnitus sound.

Reasons for tinnitus

Often, a precise reason for tinnitus is never established. It can accompany hearing loss, particularly presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. Small hairs in your cochlea create the electrical impulses that your brain interprets as sound. Damage to these hairs leads to hearing loss, and abnormal impulses originating at these hairs can be interpreted as the sounds you hear as tinnitus.

Ear canal blockages can also cause tinnitus. Earwax (cerumen) is a common cause of blockage, but it’s easily removed by a medical professional, so it’s one case where your tinnitus may stop after treatment.

Head or neck injuries can affect the operation of the inner ear and could start tinnitus. Injuries typically cause phantom sounds on one side only.

Some medications, such as some antibiotics, antidepressants, drugs used for cancer treatment, diuretics, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can cause tinnitus. Higher doses can make tinnitus more severe, and stopping the medication often stops the unwanted sound.

Less common reasons for tinnitus include diseases and conditions like:

  • Ménière’s disease
  • Structural changes to the eustachian tubes or bones of the middle ear
  • Temporomandibular joint disorder (the hinge joint of your jaw)
  • Head and neck tumors: cancerous or noncancerous
  • Neurologic diseases such as multiple sclerosis
  • Muscle spasms of the inner ear
  • Chronic diseases: including anemia, diabetes, lupus, migraine, and rheumatoid arthritis
  • Blood vessel disorders

Having any of these diseases or disorders raises your risk of tinnitus, as does exposure to loud noise repeatedly over time, tobacco consumption, and alcohol use.

Contact Hearing & Balance Services of Reston when you recognize any sounds associated with tinnitus.