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Tinnitus Causes and Symptoms: Understanding the Impact on Your Health

Connect Hearing works with patients throughout TX, FL, CA, CO, and GA at our nationwide network of hearing centers to educate patients on how to treat tinnitus. It’s a common condition that affects millions of people in the United States and is characterized by ringing, buzzing, hissing, or other phantom noises in the ears without any external source. While tinnitus can affect anyone regardless of age, it is most commonly seen in individuals over 60 years old.

Understanding the Categories of Tinnitus

While the exact trigger of the condition isn’t fully understood, medical research has shown that tinnitus causes are diverse enough to divide the disorder into two broad categories.
  • Subjective Tinnitus – This is the most common form, but it is also the most difficult to diagnose. The challenge is that it can’t be measured externally, and this category also has the broadest range of causes.
  • Objective Tinnitus - Unlike subjective tinnitus, objective tinnitus can be measured externally using specialized equipment. The cause is usually a direct physical one.

Common Causes of Subjective Tinnitus

With subjective tinnitus being the most common type experienced, the causes are widespread. The sounds are only heard by the individual and can’t be measured by an audiologist. This type is broken down into two categories:
Acoustic Trauma, Presbycusis, or Acute Hearing Loss
In these cases, tinnitus is believed to involve damage to the cochlea, the tiny hairs within the ears. Certain sounds are either faintly transmitted to the brain or not transmitted at all. The brain reacts to make up for this by "turning up the volume" to compensate for the lack of transmission.
Neurological Issues
Other causes of tinnitus are thought to be due to brain damage or damage to the auditory nerves.

Typical Reasons Individuals Have Objective Tinnitus

A tinnitus doctor can hear the noises produced in objective tinnitus during an examination. It is a rare form of the condition, and less than 5% of the population with tinnitus have this type. Causes of this disorder include:
  • Blockages or inflammation of the ear canal
  • Disorders, such as Ménière's disease
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Vascular constriction
  • Otosclerosis

The Wide-Ranging Symptoms of Tinnitus

Regardless of the type or category an individual has, the common theme for each case is the presence of phantom noise. The noise varies and depends on whether a person has been diagnosed with subjective or objective tinnitus. For example, high-pitched ringing is likely due to acoustic trauma or hearing loss consistent with subjective tinnitus. In contrast, low-pitched ringing is often connected to a blockage or deformity found with objective tinnitus. Noise symptoms can range from the following:

• High or Low-pitched ringing
• Whistling
• Buzzing or Humming
• Roaring
• Pulsing or Clicking
• Grinding or Crunching

Understanding the Various Levels of Tinnitus

Not everyone with tinnitus experiences the condition the same way. From the initial cause to the type of sounds heard, each case is unique, even when it comes to how long or frequently an individual experiences the symptoms. The different levels are described in three ways:

Acute Tinnitus

Subacute Tinnitus

Chronic Tinnitus

This is the least severe form, and on average, acute tinnitus lasts for about three months and then suddenly stops. Rarely does this kind ever require medical attention. These episodes last longer, anywhere from three to 12 months, but they also resolve independently without requiring medical intervention. Anyone with tinnitus that persists longer than 12 months and doesn’t experience relief without medical assistance falls into this category. It is the most debilitating and severe form of tinnitus.




Tinnitus’ Impact on People’s Lives

Doctors diagnose tinnitus using various categories and classifications. Not only is the nature of the noise considered but the degree to which it impedes a person's quality of life is also factored into the treatment plan. The types fall into two categories:

  • Compensated Tinnitus – This form isn’t intrusive in a person's daily routine, and the noise can mostly be ignored or blocked out throughout the day.
  • Decompensated Tinnitus – While not physically dangerous, this type can cause severe psychological strain. The noise is incredibly intrusive, always present, and difficult to ignore. Side effects can include insomnia, chronic stress, anxiety, social isolation, and problems at work.

Can Tinnitus Be Treated?

There are various treatments for tinnitus depending on the type and severity of a person’s case. Options include lifestyle changes, medication, surgical intervention, hearing aids, therapy, and white noise machines.

Some options can alleviate symptoms significantly, while others will help patients cope with the distracting noise. A healthcare professional specializing in hearing will help determine the best options.

Learn How to Avoid Tinnitus

Complete prevention of tinnitus isn’t possible, but taking steps to protect your ears and hearing to minimize the impact is something everyone should do. Lifestyle changes and healthy habits for those with certain medical risks are critical. Everyone else can benefit from the following steps:

  • Wear hearing protection when around loud noises at work, in recreation, or at live music concerts
  • Avoid using earbuds
  • Keep foreign objects out of your ears
  • Stop smoking and drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Eat a healthy diet

Speak With a Hearing Professional About Tinnitus

If you’re wondering how to treat tinnitus, there are ways Connect Hearing can help at our top-rated hearing centers throughout TX, FL, CA, CO, and GA. Our industry-leading hearing healthcare services offer solutions for all patients experiencing hearing conditions.

Contact us to locate a hearing center near you and schedule a free evaluation and consultation.

Additional Articles

Hearing Loss – Hearing Impairment
Preventing and treating tinnitus
Getting a Hearing Test