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Tinnitus: What’s That Ringing in My Ear?

Tinnitus (pronounced tih-NITE-us or TIN-ih-tus) is when someone perceives a sound with no external source. While everyone can experience a brief ringing from time to time, true tinnitus tends to last longer and be far more noticeable. It can be described in a variety of ways, but for most people this is either a ringing, buzzing, whistling, chirping, roaring, hissing, or humming. It may be experienced in one or both ears and be continuous or intermittent. For many people, tinnitus is present, but is not truly bothersome; for others the sound can be debilitating. If the tinnitus pulses in time to your heart beat, this can be a sign of a more serious underlying health issue and should be addressed with your physician.

There are several theories on the cause of tinnitus, but it often cannot be attributed to one specific factor. Exposure to loud noise can sometimes induce tinnitus which resolves after a few hours or days. The start of certain medications can also induce tinnitus which can go away once the medication is discontinued. When the tinnitus last longer (6 months or more), it is considered chronic. According to the American Tinnitus Association, it is estimated that 45 million Americans suffer from long-term tinnitus and, currently, there is no cure, but for most individuals it can become less noticeable over time.

While it could stem from many causes, there is often a strong correlation with chronic tinnitus and the presence of hearing loss. Hearing loss often stems from damage to the hair cells located in the cochlea portion of the inner ear. These are the cells that help to change sound waves in to electrical signals which are sent across the auditory nerve to the brain. One theory for the cause of tinnitus is that when the brain doesn’t receive the signals it is expecting from the cells, it tries to increase the signal being sent along that pathway in order to get a response. The resulting signals are then perceived as tinnitus.

If you are experiencing tinnitus it is very important to visit you physician to try to determine the exact cause which could be an underlying medical condition. Your physician may refer you to an audiologist for a complete hearing evaluation to try to determine if the cause is something auditory related.

At Gardner Audiology, our doctors of audiology can help manage your tinnitus. Visit any of our ten office locations to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our clinicians and discuss various coping and management strategies. Please call 1-800-277-1182 to schedule your appointment.

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Valerie Schiavo B.S., Gardner Audiology