How to Recognize the First Signs of Tinnitus

If you’ve been experiencing hearing loss or ringing in your ears, you may be suffering from tinnitus. It’s common in people that spend their professional career around loud noises, such as firefighters, rock stars, and those that spend time around jet engines. 

Tinnitus can come on very suddenly or slowly and there are a few different kinds of tinnitus*.

There are two main kinds of tinnitus:

Subjective Tinnitus
This is the most common and is caused by damage in your outer, middle, or inner ear. Typically subjective tinnitus is caused by exposure to loud noise over a period of time.
Objective Tinnitus
This type of tinnitus can actually be heard by a doctor. It is less common than subjective tinnitus and can be caused by damage to your middle ear bone, a blood vessel problem, or muscle contractions.
Tinnitus is common, but it’s important to recognize signs early so that it doesn’t become more serious or permanent. An audiologist, for example, can assess the kind of tinnitus you may have and let you know if it’s permanent or if there are measures you can take to ensure it doesn’t become permanent.
Here are things to look for (and listen for!) to see whether or not you have tinnitus.

A constant ringing in both ears

You’ll hear this during moments of silence. The buzzing, or ringing sound is more pronounced when there is no competition for noise. Instead, the sound is persistent inside your head and you’re the only one who can hear it. A low pitched ringing is commonly seen in patients with Meniere’s disease and it often occurs before a vertigo attack. A high pitched ringing is usually caused by long-term noise exposure, aging, or even certain medications. It may go away after a few hours or it may become permanent.

You hear a loud thumping in both ears or ringing in one ear

Like the constant ringing, loud thumping inside one’s head is another phantom noise that is persistent. It will sound like a large bass drum or a bass guitar that repeats like a heartbeat. This could be a sign that you have pulsatile tinnitus.

You hear music

There is a kind of tinnitus that expresses itself as “musical hallucinations.” This can come in the form of what might sound like background music. You might have heard a song earlier and are convinced that you are hearing part of it in real again. If this persists, you could have tinnitus.

There is an obvious hearing loss

If you’re constantly asking people to speak up or turning up the TV, you might have also a hearing loss besides the tinnitus. If there is a noticeable change in how you are hearing and it lasts for at least two weeks, get your ears checked out to see if the loss is temporary or is here to stay.
If you are experiencing any or all of the symptoms above, it’s time to make an appointment with an ear specialist. Not only will you get more information about why you are going through what you are experiencing, but you may have an opportunity to lessen the potential long-term damage to your hearing.
*Main article: Jamil Al-Swiahb and Shi Nae Park. Characterization of Tinnitus in Different Age Groups: A Retrospective Review. Noise Health. 2016 Jul-Aug; 18(83): 214–219. Retrieved from:

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