Ring... Ring... It's Tinnitus Calling

Post By: Olivia Hahn

To set the stage, Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as noises or ringing in the ears or head when no such external physical noise is present. Tinnitus is usually caused by a fault in the hearing system; it is a symptom, not a disease in itself. The word "tinnitus" means "tinkling or ringing like a bell". If you feel like you know someone or you yourself is experiencing a consistent ringing in your ears then it very well may be tinnitus. 

Tinnitus is extremely common, affecting 10-15% of the adult population around the world. More than 50 million US citizens suffer from it ranging from a mild to severe degree. Around 12 million adults have experienced tinnitus to such a severe degree that they seek medical attention to attempt to relieve the ringing. It is estimated that 1 in every 5 teenagers notice ringing in their ears whether it is temporary or permanent. 

Tinnitus can be caused be stress or anxiety. It can be a side effect of some medications. Exposure to loud noises consistently like working in a factory or attending loud concerts all the time while not wearing hearing protection can help in acquiring tinnitus. Even a shorter exposure to loud noises like mowing the lawn can cause temporary ringing in the ears. A sensorineural hearing loss is a common cause of this as well. Tinnitus is the #1 war wound in veterans. 60% of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq return home with hearing loss and tinnitus.

There are objective and subjective forms. Objective is rarer and can be heard by other people other than the individual that it is directly affecting. Subjective is most common where the individual experiencing the ringing in his or her ears is the only one that can hear it.

Unfortunately there are no scientifically proven cures for most cases of chronic tinnitus. The primary objective for treatment in these cases is to lower perceived burden of the tinnitus which allows the patient to live a more comfortable and content life. Counseling and therapy to bring down stress levels is a great way to lower the affects that tinnitus can bring. Hopefully in the near future we as audiologists and scientists can come up with a cure for this common and concerning problem. Take care and protect those ears!