Tinnitus occurs when you hear noises, called phantom sounds, even when there is no sound occurring around you. Phantom sounds can occur in either one or both ears; be extremely loud or very quiet; have low or high pitches; and can be continuous or come and go. Typical phantom sounds include hissing, ringing, buzzing, roaring, and clicking.
Tinnitus is generally a sign that something else is happening in your body and most often occurs when the hairs that detect sound in your inner ear bend or break and mistakenly send signals that your brain interprets as sound. The most common causes of tinnitus include stress, age-related hearing loss, earwax blockage, head congestion, medications, stiffening of the bones in your middle ear, and exposure to loud noises. In some cases, it may not be possible to identify the underlying cause.
In rare instances, tinnitus may be a symptom of more serious conditions such as head and neck injuries, atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in your arteries), or tumors on the blood vessels in your head, neck, or cranial nerves.
Tinnitus is very common, affecting approximately 10 percent of adults in the U.S. for at least five minutes in the past year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although tinnitus may only be a nuisance for some people, for others it can be very disruptive to their quality of life.
In addition to phantom noises, more serious cases of tinnitus can cause stress, fatigue, social isolation, depression, anxiety, irritability, mood swings, pain, trouble concentrating or sleeping, and difficulties with memory.
If you have tinnitus, your healthcare provider or audiologist will perform a physical exam and may order tests — such as a hearing test or imaging study — to help find the cause. These tests will also help your healthcare provider to figure out the best way to treat your tinnitus.
Treatments for tinnitus can be as simple as removing excess earwax or changing your medication. Other treatments include devices and techniques to suppress or mask the phantom sounds and make them less disruptive. In some cases, your healthcare provider may recommend tinnitus retraining therapy to help you get used to ignoring the phantom sounds.
Audiology is the practice of caring for hearing and related disorders. Hearing loss is the third most common health condition in the United States, and more than 31 million Americans have some type of hearing problem. Audiologist Cheryl Kinney, Au. D. with Fort HealthCare Audiology uses the latest technology for hearing tests and treatments for patients of all ages. She can assist with providing customized hearing protection, individualized hearing aid fitting, hearing aid repairs and more with offices in Fort Atkinson and Whitewater.