Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present.

More than 50 million Americans experience some form of tinnitus. It is one of the most common health conditions in the United States, and one of the most common reasons adults seek medical attention.

Tinnitus Symptoms

Tinnitus symptoms are most often described as “ringing in the ears,” but can also seem like buzzing, whooshing, hissing, whistling, pulsing, or the sound of a cricket clicking.

About 5 percent of people who have tinnitus describe hearing musical notes or entire songs. This is called musical tinnitus.

Symptoms can be acute, often arising suddenly and lasting only a few seconds or for much longer. Symptoms can also be chronic, experienced constantly for weeks, months or even years.

In some cases, people have severe and burdensome symptoms. More rarely, symptoms are severe enough to interfere with work or sleep. They can even lead to mental illness.

Causes of Tinnitus

Most commonly, the underlying cause of tinnitus cannot be determined.

Causes that are known include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Trauma to the head and neck
  • Middle ear disease, including ear infections
  • Certain medications such as aspirin and anti-inflammatories
  • Temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ)
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Inner ear infections

Tinnitus can also be exacerbated by:

  • Acute or chronic noise exposure
  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Diets high in salt
  • Caffeine
  • Nicotine
  • Psychiatric disorders

Diagnosing Tinnitus

A thorough physical examination and hearing test is part of the routine evaluation for tinnitus. Additional testing is based on these findings and will be determined by your physician.

At the Listen for Life Center, we have physicians and audiologists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of tinnitus. They will talk with you about possible causes, treatment options, and the psychological impact the disorder is having on your life.

Treating Tinnitus

Hearing aids can improve symptoms in up to 50 percent to 60 percent of people with hearing loss and tinnitus.

Others with tinnitus may benefit from ear-level masking devices, cognitive therapy or sound therapy. Our audiologists can discuss these options with you based on your symptoms and test results.

Over-the-counter medications advertised for tinnitus may have a placebo effect, but research shows they do not actually help symptoms.

Many people have also tried alternative therapies such as naturopathic medication, hypnotism or acupuncture, and there are anecdotal reports of patients benefiting from them.

The American Tinnitus Association has information on tinnitus and clinical trials that may be going on near you.