Ringing in the ears is very common throughout the world. People have all sorts of questions about this strange phenomenon, so here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked ones.
What is tinnitus?
A good definition of tinnitus is if you perceive sound that does not actually exist. The sounds can be irritating and very distressing.
Tinnitus is often described as “ringing in the ears”, and people can have tinnitus in one ear or both ears. However, in most cases it occurs inside the brain.
How many people have tinnitus?
The British Tinnitus Association estimates that between approximately 12-30% of the world’s population suffers from some form of tinnitus i.
What does tinnitus sound like?
The tinnitus sounds people hear can be very different. Many people experience their ears ringing, while others hear a constant tone (tonal tinnitus).
Other tinnitus symptoms include hearing hissing, screeching, roaring, whooshing, buzzing, pulsating (pulsatile tinnitus), and even music or singing.
What is pulsatile tinnitus?
Pulsatile tinnitus is where the sounds people hear are pulsating – often in rhythm with their heartbeat. Doctors can sometimes hear it with a stethoscope.
How do you pronounce tinnitus?
There are different tinnitus pronunciations. Some people say “TINN-a-tus” while others say “ti-NIGHT-us”.
The word tinnitus actually comes from the Latin for “to ring, or to tinkle”.
What causes tinnitus?
The causes of tinnitus aren’t entirely clear. Experts think most tinnitus arises from a change in the amount of information going to the brain ii.
This is often a change in the sound information coming from the ears.
We know tinnitus is closely linked to hearing loss, because most people who have tinnitus also have hearing loss (in fact, approximately eight out of 10 people with hearing loss have tinnitus iii). What is more, people can experience tinnitus after loud noises.
Other tinnitus causes include ear infections, and other ear complications – all related to the ear.
However, not everyone with tinnitus has hearing loss as well. This indicates tinnitus does not necessarily come from the ears.
Stress can cause tinnitus, and so can a change in your circumstances or general well-being. Other illnesses or disorders can also cause tinnitus, as well as certain kinds of medication.
How long does tinnitus last?
For some people, tinnitus is intermittent – lasting for minutes, hours, or days at a time.
A single rock concert or loud explosion may cause ringing in your ears. This temporary type of tinnitus usually goes away in a matter of hours or days.
For some people however, tinnitus seems to never stop, and they hear sounds all the time.
Both of these types of tinnitus can be very stressful and distressing.
Does tinnitus go away?
While it doesn’t necessarily go away, some people get used to permanent tinnitus. To start with, it’s a surprising new experience that takes up a lot of attention. But it tends to become less noticeable as people get used to it, and it moves more into the background.
Is there a cure for tinnitus?
Unfortunately, there is no tinnitus cure, and no way to stop tinnitus altogether – but there is plenty you can do!
We know how to treat tinnitus and reduce its effect on your life by relieving the symptoms and making it more comfortable for you.
The best thing to do is contact your doctor or a hearing care professional to get help. If left untreated, the constant ringing of the ears is distracting. Like untreated hearing loss, this can cause people to withdraw and become isolated. In turn, this can ultimately increase the risk of cognitive decline iv.
How to treat tinnitus?
The tinnitus treatment we recommend is using tinnitus sound therapy. This approach doesn’t ‘get rid of tinnitus’ entirely. Instead, it makes the tinnitus much less annoying and bothersome.
Also known as tinnitus retraining therapy, this approach uses other sounds to help move your attention away from the tinnitus sounds. Focussing on other, real sounds gives your brain more sound information.
Tinnitus therapy like this can use a sound generator to create the tinnitus relief sounds. This can be a physical machine, a computer program, or a phone app. We also make hearing aids with tinnitus programs at Oticon, which can play sounds that help relieve or mask tinnitus symptoms by playing tinnitus relieving sounds.
See Oticon’s tinnitus hearing aids here
Are there hearing aids for tinnitus?
Hearing aids can be a great help for people with tinnitus. A lot of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss, so they can benefit from hearing better – and not only for the obvious reason.
Hearing better can also make the tinnitus sounds less noticeable. This is because there is more stimulation of the auditory parts of the brain, and more enriched sound to concentrate on. In other words, the brain gets more sound information to work on, just as it is supposed to have.
See Oticon hearing aids for tinnitus here
What other types of tinnitus relief are there?
Some people find it is possible to change the intensity of their tinnitus by moving their body. Moving the shoulders, head, tongue, jaw, or eyes may be worth experimenting with v.
Some people also use meditation, stress management techniques, changes in diet, and regular exercise. These may also be worth trying.
Other than that, there are a lot of different ideas for tinnitus remedies. These include acupuncture and natural remedies for tinnitus. Some people also take dietary supplements such as lipoflavonoids for tinnitus.
It’s important to say that we don’t know how well scientifically proven the tinnitus remedies mentioned above are, so we do not have enough evidence to recommend these treatments. Without scientific evidence, all other tinnitus remedies are not clinically proven and may not work.
To hear more about your tinnitus treatment options, we recommend you contact a hearing clinic with expertise in tinnitus treatment.
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i Gallus S, Lugo A, Garavello W, Bosetti C, Santoro E, et al. 2015. Prevalence and determinants of tinnitus in the Italian adult population. Neuroepidemiology 45: 12–19
McCormack A, Edmondson-Jones M, Somerset S, Hall D. 2016. A systematic review of the reporting of tinnitus prevalence and severity. Hear. Res. 337: 70–79
iii Davis, A., & Rafaie, E. A. (2000). Epidemiology of tinnitus. Tinnitus handbook, 1-2 3
iv Livingston et al., 2017
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