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Has it started to buzz, hiss or ring in your ears? In this article we talk about tinnitus. The article goes through tinnitus in depth, what it means, how to treat it, what it depends on and when you should seek help for it.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus involves experiencing a sound in the ears that can not be explained by the environment. The word tinnitus comes from Latin and means small sound. This is a common ailment and it is estimated that about 15 percent of the population suffers from it. Whilst two to three percent have severe problems that lead to problems with sleep and concentration. Tinnitus is not a condition in itself but a symptom caused by an underlying condition such as a hearing loss. Tinnitus can occur for many reasons. It can creep up as a result of stress or be associated with a hearing loss. However, if you get tinnitus suddenly for no reason at all, it can in rare cases be a sign of a disease. There is no scientifically proven cure for tinnitus but the treatment of tinnitus focuses instead on relieving the symptoms. Hearing that there is no cure can be difficult to cope with especially if you have just started to experience tinnitus, but a consolation is that very many who suffer from it are not affected at all. When tinnitus occurs, there are some who become very afraid that tinnitus will take over their lives and that they will not be able to think of anything other than the sounds in their ears. A big reason for this, however, is that you become hyper focused on your tinnitus, which in itself can worsen the symptoms. However, this usually subsides over time and in the end most people hardly think that they have tinnitus. Nevertheless, if you are struggling with tinnitus, it may be a good idea to seek help for it by talking to your GP.

Causes of tinnitus:

Tinnitus can occur for several reasons. The most common reasons why people seek help for tinnitus are:

Hearing loss caused by age: Tinnitus often worsens with age and this is as a result of hearing loss. The medical term for this is presbycusis.

Noise damage: Loud noises that have caused noise damage are often a cause of tinnitus. It can be a result of work injuries from, for example, a chainsaw or that you have listened to music too loud for a long period. Tinnitus can also occur as a result of sudden noises such as an explosion or going to a concert. However, this form of tinnitus caused by sudden sounds usually disappears. However, both short- and long-term exposure to loud noises can cause permanent damage.

Stress: Stress can cause tinnitus and especially aggravate the symptoms.

Blood vessel diseases: This is a relatively uncommon cause of tinnitus but in some cases it can be caused by a blood vessel disorder. Medications: Some medications can cause tinnitus, this includes for example cytotoxic drugs, certain antidepressants etc.

Tension in the neck and jaws: Tinnitus can be caused by tension in the neck and jaw muscles.

Head and neck injuries: Trauma to the head or neck can affect the inner ear or nerves connected to the hearing and cause tinnitus. In these cases, it is common for tinnitus to be experienced in only one ear.

Meniere’s disease: Tinnitus can be an early indicator of Meniere’s disease which is a disease that affects the inner ear and causes pressure in the ear.

TMJ: this causes problems with the temporomandibular joint that sits on either side of your head in front of your ears, where the jawbone meets the skull. This can create tinnitus

Muscle spasms in the inner ear: Tension in the muscles of the inner ear can create tinnitus. This can happen without any real explanation but can also occur as a symptom of neurological diseases, such as multiple sclerosis (MS).

How is tinnitus experienced?

Tinnitus can be described as a “phantom sound” experienced by the sufferer. The sound can differ and could involve:

  • Ringing

  • Humming

  • Clicking

  • Sharpening

  • Roaring

  • Susande

Some hear the sound in both ears while others only experience it in one ear. The tinnitus sound can also vary in volume and tone. It can be experienced as constant or come and go.

Does tinnitus go away?

The answer to the question of whether tinnitus goes away really depends on what is causing your tinnitus. As aforementioned tinnitus can, for example, be caused by certain medications or stress. In these cases, it does not have to be a permanent tinnitus. Most people have probably experienced that it sounds in their ears when you have been to a concert or listened to loud music. This is a sign that you have overworked your hearing and should take a break from loud noises. In some cases, the sound disappears after a few days or even after a few weeks. Sometimes, unfortunately, the sound does not disappear and you may then have suffered noise damage.

When to seek help for tinnitus?

Does your tinnitus bother you in your everyday life? Then you should reach out to your GP who can refer you to occupational health or an ear doctor for an examination. This also applies if you have had tinnitus in just one ear for several weeks or if you are unable to identify why it has occurred. In many cases, tinnitus is due to a hearing loss and many are helped by tackling their hearing problems.

Treatment for tinnitus

Tinnitus can be treated in a number of different ways:

Treatment of tinnitus with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) involves treating the problems associated with tinnitus. CBT gives you tools to treat difficult thoughts and feelings related to tinnitus. It can also be about shifting focus from tinnitus, managing stress, improving sleep and daring to do things that you have avoided due to the problems but that actually make you feel good.

It also often includes elements of ACT which is a variant of CBT that helps you to aim for what is important in life and find helpful approaches to things you can not influence. Tinnitus can in some cases be linked to tension in the jaw. Then it can help to get treatment from a jaw specialist or to get a brace.

Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) is typically administered by an audiologist and involves the use of a device that emits white noise. The device aids in helping the individual perceive the noise as background noise and reduce the distress caused by it.

If tinnitus has physical causes such as tension in the neck, jaws or shoulders, consulting a physiotherapist can be useful. For those who have tinnitus caused by a hearing impairment, it may help to start using a hearing aid. It can make it easier to mask the sound and to relax.

To prevent tinnitus

In general, it is good to protect your ears with ear muffs or earplugs when you are in places with harmful noise levels such as nightclubs, concerts or when using particularly loud machinery. For tinnitus related to stress, exercise is a great way to prevent and relieve stress. In addition, if you have problems with your tinnitus, do not isolate yourself and avoid noise as this can contribute to further distress.

Updated: 2022-06-09

Author: Felix Lundevall

Reviewed by: Antigone Lanitis