What Is Tinnitus & What Are The Symptoms and Causes?

written by Becki Andrus
What Is Tinnitus & What Causes It?

Do you feel like you often hear ringing or other unexplained noises throughout the day? These sounds aren’t caused by external noises, and they might drive you crazy because you are hearing things that other people can’t hear.

This condition is known as tinnitus, and it affects between 15% – 20% of the population. While tinnitus can affect people of all ages, it is most common in older adults.

Which Tinnitus Symptoms Are You Experiencing?

The specific symptoms can vary from patient to patient, which is why it can be helpful to talk to a hearing specialist about your condition.

The most common symptoms of tinnitus include various phantom noises in the ears, such as:

  • Ringing
  • Humming
  • Clicking
  • Roaring
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Squealing

Tinnitus symptoms can affect one or both ears. The critical factor is that you hear these things without an environmental trigger. You might notice these sensations in your ears, but other people around you aren’t hearing anything.

What Is the Main Cause of Tinnitus?

The only way to relieve tinnitus symptoms is by treating the underlying health conditions. For most patients, tinnitus is caused by:

  • Hearing Loss: Tiny hairs in the inner ear are critical for hearing function. When these hairs are broken or bent, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to the brain and result in tinnitus symptoms.
  • Age: Hearing loss is more common in older adults. So, the risk of tinnitus symptoms increases with age.
  • Gender: For some reason, tinnitus is more common in men than women.
  • Sound Exposure: When your ears are exposed to loud sounds, such as large machinery or blasting music, there is a higher risk of damaging the delicate hairs inside the ears.
  • Neck or Head Injuries: Trauma to the head can result in a condition that leads to tinnitus symptoms. The injury can affect the inner ear, brain function, or hearing nerves. Usually, trauma injuries cause tinnitus in only one ear.
  • Medications: Certain medications can increase the risk of tinnitus, especially with higher frequencies and doses. Common tinnitus-related medications include cancer drugs, antibiotics, antimalarial drugs, diuretics, and antidepressants.
  • Ear Canal Blockage: A blockage in the ear canal or inner ear infection can cause a buildup that leads to tinnitus symptoms. These blockages change the pressure within the ear.
  • Other Causes: Tinnitus is associated with a variety of other medical conditions, including Meniere’s disease, ear muscle spasms, tumors, blood vessel disorders, autoimmune conditions, diabetes, Eustachian tube dysfunction, TMJ, and more.

Risk factors for tinnitus include cardiovascular issues, alcohol and tobacco use, age, and exposure to loud noises.

The best thing you can do is talk to an ENT about your tinnitus symptoms. A medical expert can complete a thorough diagnosis to find specific underlying concerns that are contributing to your condition. Then, a personalized treatment plan can be designed to help you find relief.

What Are the First Signs of Tinnitus?

Some people experience a sudden onset of tinnitus symptoms, especially when the underlying cause is trauma or an accident. If you suddenly notice these changes, you might want to talk to an ENT or hearing specialist without delay.

Other patients notice that the symptoms start small then continue increasing with time. Since tinnitus symptoms vary from one patient to the next, the first signs aren’t always predictable. For example, you might notice a quiet ringing or pulsating sensation in the ears that gets worse over time.

Complications of Tinnitus

In most cases, tinnitus is only a minor inconvenience – not something that disrupts a person’s life. But it’s important to note that tinnitus can affect patients differently. There are times when these symptoms take a serious toll on the quality of life.

For example, severe tinnitus symptoms can lead to:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Headaches
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Problems in family and work-life
  • Memory issues
  • Sleep disruptions

Can Tinnitus Go Away?

Tinnitus can be a temporary condition that goes away without treatment. Or it might be a persistent or chronic condition.

Usually, tinnitus happens because of an underlying condition. So, if you want the symptoms to go away, it’s necessary to get a diagnosis and treat the health issue causing tinnitus.

Usually, treating the underlying condition is the best way to improve tinnitus symptoms. But certain causes can’t always be treated, such as age-related hearing loss.

Since hearing loss can’t be reversed, the goal is to address the symptoms as much as possible to improve your overall comfort. For example, using hearing aids might mask or reduce the noise, making tinnitus symptoms less noticeable.

What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?

Most people describe tinnitus as a ringing sensation in the ears – which happens when there is no external sound triggering the ringing.

While ear ringing is the most common description, the experience varies from one patient to the next.

These noises can be dull and quiet. Or, the sounds can seem so loud that the symptoms interfere with your daily activities. It can be hard to concentrate while experiencing severe tinnitus symptoms.

It’s rare, but some patients describe tinnitus as a whooshing sound or rhythmic pulsing. You might notice that the sounds and sensations match your heartbeat. This sensation is known as pulsatile tinnitus.

Should You Talk to an ENT about Tinnitus?

When should you consult with a doctor about tinnitus symptoms? If the symptoms aren’t bothering you very much, it probably isn’t necessary to talk to a doctor about your condition.

Most people seek medical treatment when they find that tinnitus interferes with their daily activities. So if these symptoms are bothering you and affecting your life, it makes sense to talk to a doctor for a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Additionally, it’s a good idea to talk to an ENT if your tinnitus symptoms develop in conjunction with an upper respiratory condition. For example, if you have a head cold, develop tinnitus, and the symptoms continue longer than a week, you might need medical treatment.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms along with tinnitus, then you should seek medical attention without delay:

  • Dizziness
  • Hearing loss
  • Depression or anxiety resulting from the tinnitus symptoms

Schedule a Consultation with a Local ENT

Whether you are experiencing tinnitus or other conditions affecting the ears, nose, and throat, an ENT is an excellent resource for diagnosis and treatment. Our team at Collin County Ear, Nose, and Throat offers full-service medical care for the entire family.

If you are looking for a provider in the Dallas or Collin County areas, then we invite you to reach out to schedule a consultation. You can book an appointment at either of our offices in Frisco or Plano, TX. Fill out the online form for an appointment request, or call our team at (972) 596-4005.

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