What is Tinnitus?

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is the persistent sensation of buzzing, ringing or noise in the ear, independent of any external sound. Such perceptions are commonly referred to as “phantom noise.”

Tinnitus is typically caused by damage to the tiny nerve cells in the cochlea of the inner ear. The damage can cause these nerve cells to fire in a way that creates the perception of noise.

Almost 50 million Americans (about 15 percent of the population) experience tinnitus on some level, according the United States Centers for Disease Control. For many people, tinnitus can be intermittent or temporary, such as a short-term ringing caused by a loud noise. However, more chronic sufferers live with Tinnitus ongoingly, and sometimes on a near-constant basis.

Tinnitus usually occurs as a symptom of some underlying condition, such as hearing loss, ear damage, excessive ear wax, loud noise exposure, migraines, head injuries or hypertension. The most common cause of tinnitus is noise-induced hearing loss.

The best ways to prevent tinnitus are to protect your ears from loud noise exposure, as well as to maintain general good health. Tinnitus is much more likely to crop up when the emotions or physical body are unduly stressed.

Treatment options for tinnitus depend on the condition causing it. For example, if the cause is excessive ear wax, treatment involves simply clearing that away; likewise, surgery may help if the cause is something in the structural ear.

However, causes of tinnitus are frequently much harder to pinpoint, and often the condition
eludes easy treatment. One common approach is treating the physical or emotional stress that can cause or exacerbate tinnitus -- things like fatigue, anxiety, sleep problems, depression and high blood pressure.

Because tinnitus is often linked with hearing loss, hearing aids can alleviate the condition in many cases. Another treatment option is a tinnitus masker, or a device that generates soothing sounds which can mask the ringing. A tinnitus masking device can be placed within the ear, like a hearing aid, or may simply be a machine that is used when symptoms are chronic, or turned on at night to aid with sleep.