What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is any sound a person hears that doesn’t come from an outside source. Many people describe it as a ring, hiss or thump. The most common reason for tinnitus is hearing loss, but other health conditions and medications can cause tinnitus. Most of the time tinnitus isn’t serious, but if it comes on loudly and suddenly it should be reported to an Audiologist, your primary care doctor or an ENT.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that over 50 million Americans (nearly 15% of the general public) experience some form of tinnitus. An estimated 20 million people struggle with burdensome chronic tinnitus, while approximately 2 million have extreme and debilitating cases. That being said, it’s safe to say that if you’re scared or worried about your tinnitus journey, you are definitely not alone.

Also referred to by many as phantom noise, tinnitus sounds may vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal, and you may hear it in either one or both ears. In some cases, the sound can be heard so loud to the point that it can interfere with one’s ability to focus or hear above external sound. Tinnitus may be constantly present, or may come and go. Learning about the degree and type of your tinnitus is important so that you and your audiologist can discuss tinnitus treatment options.

Common Symptoms

Tinnitus is sometimes described as a phantom noise and reported as humming, ringing, roaring, clicking, buzzing, or hissing. It is important to note if the sound is constant or occasional, what noise you have been around in the immediate past, what new medications, including over the counter drugs, and what you have consumed for food and drinks. The two types of tinnitus:

Subjective (where you are the only person hearing the sound). It can be caused by ear problems in your inner, middle, or outer ear. It can also be attributed to problems within the hearing (auditory) nerves or the part of the brain that interprets nerve signals as sound (auditory pathways). Subjective tinnitus is the most common type of tinnitus.

Objective (where the sound can actually be heard or measured by a trained audiologist). This rare type of tinnitus may be caused by a middle ear bone condition, blood vessel or heart problem, or muscle contractions.

When should you see an audiologist?

The best time to see an audiologist is when you first experience symptoms or feel discomfort; don’t wait for the tinnitus to worsen because as it drags on, you might feel emotional stress, anxiety, depression, or other stress-related physiological condition. Tinnitus and emotional stress, anxiety, and depression are said to be correlated or connected with each other. In fact, it has been an interesting point of discussion about whether tinnitus is causing emotional stress, anxiety, or depression or if it’s the other way around. Nevertheless, as soon as you feel like the tinnitus is hampering your daily routine or affecting your psychological condition, you need to set an appointment with an audiologist to get it out of the way.

You may also need to see an audiologist if you develop tinnitus after getting a cold, an upper respiratory infection, or if your tinnitus doesn’t improve within a week.

There are specialized and specific tests that specialized audiologists can do to document the tinnitus. Going over your health history, medication use and lifestyle is also critical in understanding your tinnitus.

More often than not, tinnitus is a somewhat annoying condition but not really considered a health-threatening condition. There are rare times that tinnitus can be attributed to different types of tumors, cardiovascular or heart issues, and blood vessel issues, but again this is rare. You should also see one of these specialists immediately if dizziness accompanies the tinnitus or if you experience a sudden hearing loss with accompanied dizziness or nausea.

Come see us at Oro Valley Audiology for any tinnitus issues or ringing in your ears.

Common Causes:

A known common cause of tinnitus is inner ear hair cell damage. The delicate and tiny hairs in the inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves which then triggers cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from the auditory nerve to the brain. The brain interprets these signals as sound; if the hairs in the inner ear are broken or bent, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.

Age-related hearing loss or presbycusis is also a common cause of tinnitus. For most people, hearing worsens with age, usually starting around age 60. Other causes of tinnitus include the following:

  • Noise exposure
  • Earwax blockage
  • Untreated Ear infection
  • Medication (ototoxic)
  • Dehydration
  • Respiratory Tract Infection
  • Diabetes
  • Kidney Disease
  • Thyroid Disease
  • Meniere’s Disease
  • Pain relievers
  • Arthritic medication
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Alcohol use

Other Causes:

  • Head Trauma or Neck Injuries
  • Middle ear disease including otosclerosis
  • Acoustic Tumor
  • Ear wax build up
  • TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorders
  • Eustachian tube disorders
  • Muscles spasms in middle and inner ear (Multiple Sclerosis)
  • Blood Vessel Disorders
  • Some herbal supplements may also cause tinnitus, such as alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.
  • Blood Vessel Disorders and Tinnitus

Blood Vessel Disorders and Tinnitus

If the tinnitus is pulsating in nature then it is possible the tinnitus is from a blood vessel disorder. This can be caused by plaque build-up in the arteries close to your inner ear, head or neck tumors, untreated or poorly treated high blood pressure, heart or cardiovascular issues, irregular blood flow in the carotid artery and arteriovenous malformation (AVM) where the connections between arteries and veins are not functioning properly. Many of these conditions will have pulsatile tinnitus in just one ear.

If your tinnitus feels like a heartbeat – thumping, pulsating, or beating sound, it could be attributed to damage in your blood vessels. If you are experiencing this kind of tinnitus, see your primary care physician or audiologist right away because they might need to rule out some underlying cardiac issues.

Medications and Tinnitus

There are many medications that can cause or worsen tinnitus. Any time medication changes the blood flow in the body, there is a higher chance of tinnitus. Many of these include;

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen
  • Water pills or diuretics such as Lasix (furosemide) Bmex (bumetanide) or Edecrin (ethacrynic)
  • Antibiotics, many of these end with mycin and should be looked up and if there is already a hearing loss have the physician chose a different antibiotic unless life-threatening condition requires a certain antibiotic. Another common antibiotic is Cipro that has a higher chance of tinnitus.
  • Cancer medications or chemotherapy drugs such as Cisplatin and Trexall (methotrexate)
  • Some Antidepressants
  • ACE inhibitors many that end in -il such as lisinopril, enalapril, ramipril
  • Anti-Anxiety Drugs such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan
  • Smoking with any tobacco product

What Risks Increase Chances of Tinnitus

The highest risk factor for tinnitus is noise exposure. This is a preventable condition most of the time as long as you carry hearing protection in your purse, car, or wallet. Age also increases your chance for tinnitus and this can be due to a variety of reasons. Since people are on more medications as they age, this exposes them to more tinnitus-inducing drugs. Men are also more likely to have tinnitus than women. This can be due to a higher risk of noise exposure, smoking, and lifestyle.

Complications of Tinnitus

Tinnitus can greatly affect one’s quality of life and daily functions or routines. Just like any other medical condition, tinnitus may affect people differently, but the majority of individuals who have the condition usually experience:

Fatigue: This does not just entail physical fatigue, but mentally and emotionally as well. People who have tinnitus have their brain cells working double-time to make sure that they can hear above the “inner” noise that they hear.

Stress, anxiety, and irritability: Individuals who are battling severe tinnitus may say that this condition is not for the faint of heart. Imagine living your daily routine while hearing some noise (buzzing, ringing, hissing, etc.) in the background. Quite difficult to focus, right? And because of this, tinnitus may lead to additional stress, anxiety, and irritability. Brain cells tend to work double-time to keep on the daily tasks and conversations being processed.

Memory problems: Tinnitus may affect concentration and cause depression and sleeping problems. This premise has led some medical practitioners to believe that tinnitus really interferes with how individuals process information. In fact, a small number of research studies and study designs have already investigated links between concentration, memory, and tinnitus.

Eye Problems: There are also instances when certain eye movements cause the loudness of tinnitus to increase. Commonly referred to as gaze-evoked tinnitus, a patient who is experiencing this type of tinnitus can suffer from the symptoms from a neutral head position. There are several treatment options for this type of tinnitus, usually with the coordination of an audiologist and other medical specialists in the related field.


Keep your yearly appointments with your primary physician and have your annual blood work done. Try to live an active lifestyle – it doesn’t really mean that you need to enroll yourself in a gym subscription; a simple brisk walk or treadmill run would do.

Address your health conditions and follow your doctor’s orders. Use hearing protection when you are exposed to loud noise such as shop tools, music concerts, firearm usage, construction tools (such as chainsaws and jackhammers), and loud machinery. Lastly, watch the volume with your music. Listening to your favorite music may give you enjoyment but if you continue to do this, you might end up losing your sense of hearing in the long run.

Coping with Tinnitus

People who are diagnosed with tinnitus may find it to be a blow on the heart, as they tend to imagine all sorts of discouraging scenarios living with this condition may bring about. However, there are a lot of support groups out there and one of the best ways to deal with tinnitus is to keep on learning and do some regular research about this condition. One great resource is the American Tinnitus Association, where lots of issues and the latest news about tinnitus are published.

Common Questions:

How long does tinnitus last?

If a ringing or whistling sound that happens 5 minutes or less up to twice a week is called transient ear noise, not tinnitus. If it happens more or constantly then this is defined as tinnitus. Many described as ringing, chirping, roaring, or cricket type sound.

What is the most effective treatment for tinnitus?

If a hearing loss is present, then tinnitus therapy (which has different types) and/or appropriate fitting of hearing aids is the best treatment. Tinnitus with hearing loss happens due to the damage in the auditory system and hearing aids help in about 60% of those who use it. Living or dealing with tinnitus is basically a learning process, and it takes the right mindset and conditioning to win over tinnitus. Going under the care of a trusted team of audiologists will definitely be a big help. We can help in giving you the best treatment options for your tinnitus.

There are actually numerous tinnitus treatment options such as tinnitus programs, sound/noise conditioning, biofeedback or meditation beyond hearing aids; your audiologist will discuss this with you along the way. If you have hearing loss, hearing aids are extremely beneficial, giving you a less stressful life which in turn can help you overcome or manage tinnitus. A very thorough case history with all the medications and health conditions will also help pinpoint the reasons for tinnitus.

Staying healthy and maintaining a holistic, active lifestyle can help alleviate tinnitus symptoms. Following the doctor’s orders based on the diagnosis and results of several tests can also effectively treat this condition.

Is tinnitus serious?

Tinnitus can be considered as a serious medical condition in some rare cases. We have helped diagnose acoustic tumors and cardio-vascular issues before primary care physicians did. We work closely with other medical professionals to put the puzzle pieces together for an accurate diagnosis.

Most of the time tinnitus is due to a hearing loss, but occasionally, especially with sudden onset tinnitus without a reason, you should see a professional right away. If tinnitus is accompanied by sudden hearing loss or dizziness you should be seen within 24 hours by an Audiologist (make sure you state you suddenly have these symptoms) or an Ear Nose and Throat doctor.

Most Urgent Care or Emergency Room specialists do not treat appropriately and assume it is an infection and treat with antibiotics. The proper treatment for this kind of tinnitus is specialized steroids administered within 48 to 72 hours of onset.

What if the sounds in my ear do not go away?

In many cases, tinnitus goes away on its own regardless of the cause. However, this doesn’t mean that you can just leave it untreated or wait for weeks or months until it goes away. Getting yourself checked by an audiologist to have a proper diagnosis is the best thing to do. This is to ensure that any underlying causes is ruled out such as heart problems, infection, or damage to the brain cells.

Where can I find additional information about tinnitus?

The very first person you need to approach if you suspect you have tinnitus is your audiologist. A professional audiologist can assist you with a proper assessment and diagnosis and can also rule out underlying causes of tinnitus such as heart problems, infection, etc.

They can also provide you additional information about tinnitus most especially since they can understand the implications this condition has on a person’s daily life. Dealing with tinnitus can put your brain cells on overdrive, most especially since you are trying to go on with your daily life while living with a buzzing, hissing, or ringing noise in your ears.

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What Is Hearing Loss Costing You?

What moments and conversations are missing because of hearing loss? How many dinners do you avoid? How many social gatherings do you turn down? How hard is it to communicate? It’s time to do something about your hearing so you can enjoy and live your best life!