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What is tinnitus? Tinnitus is best defined as phantom noise—perpetual sound without a clear external source. We know little about tinnitus, except it's typically a symptom of another underlying condition.

General Questions

What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is best defined as phantom noise—perpetual sound without a clear external source.  We know little about tinnitus, except it's typically a symptom of another underlying condition.  
Is tinnitus harmful?
From a purely medical perspective, no. However, ongoing exposure to tinnitus can be psychologically detrimental, interrupting concentration during the day and even interfering with sleep. It's also important to note that the underlying cause of tinnitus can be medically dangerous. 
Does tinnitus cause hearing loss?
No. However, tinnitus is often a symptom of impending or developing hearing impairment. For that reason, if you begin to experience persistent, unexplained tinnitus, you may want to schedule an appointment with an audiologist. 
How long does tinnitus last?
It varies. Tinnitus may occur only briefly, last for several months, or even be a lifetime ailment. There are generally three classifications of tinnitus in this regard: 
  • Acute tinnitus persists for less than three months and often stops spontaneously. 
  • Subacute tinnitus reoccurs over a 3-12 month timeframe. 
  • Chronic tinnitus persists for over twelve months. 
Is tinnitus a disability?
In extreme cases, yes. Severe tinnitus can be incapacitating enough to qualify you for a disability claim. However, there is typically a very high burden of proof for such claims—your tinnitus must have had a demonstrable impact on your life, with side effects including: 
  • Impaired concentration
  • Impaired capacity for concentration
  • Poor sleep
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory loss
How is tinnitus identified?
In most cases, diagnosing tinnitus involves trying to find what's causing the condition. Diagnostic procedures may include: 
  • A hearing test
  • Medically-supervised movement
  • Imaging
  • Bloodwork

Causes & Symptoms

What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus has an incredibly broad range of possible causes—it's one of the things that makes it so difficult to treat.  The most common causes of tinnitus are injury, illness, and anatomical changes. Other possible causes include: 
  • Acoustic trauma
  • Acute hearing loss
  • Age-related hearing loss
  • A damaged or defective eardrum
  • Inflammation in the brain, most commonly caused by meningitis
  • Other brain malfunctions such as a tumor, stroke, or aneurysm. 
  • Vascular constriction in the inner ear
  • Earwax buildup
  • A damaged eustachian tube
  • Issues with the mandibular joint
  • Damage to the auditory nerve
What are the main triggers of tinnitus?
In addition to known medical causes, tinnitus can be 'triggered' by any of the following: 
  • Stress. There is an established link between tinnitus and chronic stress. Patients with acute hearing loss also show signs of severe stress, indicating another possible connection. 
  • Medication. Certain medications may create phantom noises in the ear. Frequent offenders include medicine to treat pain and rheumatism, malarial remedies, and antidepressants. It is also suspected that remedies for high blood pressure, such as ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers, may trigger tinnitus.
  • Noise. As already mentioned, acoustic trauma is simultaneously one of the most common causes and triggers of tinnitus. This applies equally to those subjected to brief traumatic noise and those who regularly work in a high-noise environment. 
  • Stimulants. Some experts have suggested that certain stimulants such as alcohol and nicotine may lead to the development of tinnitus. It was originally believed that caffeine was another potential trigger, but studies have suggested that high caffeine consumption can reduce risk and severity.  
What does tinnitus sound like?
Although tinnitus is commonly described as ringing in the ear, it can take many forms, including clicking, buzzing, whooshing, swishing, or whistling. The sound and intensity differ from patient to patient and even from ear to ear.
Can earwax cause tinnitus?
Believe it or not, yes—albeit indirectly. Severe earwax buildup can, if left untreated, cause permanent damage to the structures of the ear. This applies to all other obstructions, as well. 

Seriously, don't stick things in your ears. 


What should I do if I'm affected by tinnitus?
Don't panic. Tinnitus frequently resolves itself. Your first step upon noticing symptoms of tinnitus should be to give yourself and your hearing a rest. 

However, if your tinnitus lasts longer than 24 hours, we advise seeking the advice of an expert such as an Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) specialist or an audiologist, as this may indicate the presence of something more serious. This is doubly true if you suffer from chronic tinnitus. The sooner you receive treatment, the better off you'll be. 
Can tinnitus be cured?
It depends. If the underlying cause of the tinnitus can be identified, treating that condition will typically cause the tinnitus to go away. However, if there is no clear cause—or it's linked to a similarly incurable condition—then the best you can do is learn to cope. 

Fortunately, several different treatments can make living with tinnitus much less debilitating, which we touch on in a later question.
What will happen when I visit the doctor because of my tinnitus?
Your appointment will start with a detailed conversation between yourself and your physician. They'll try to determine the exact nature of your tinnitus and the psychological strain it may be causing. Questions they may ask include: 
  • Do you have any pre-existing conditions?
  • Do you take any medication?
  • When did the noise in your ear first start? Is there anything that may have caused it?
  • Did the tinnitus begin suddenly, or has it developed gradually?
  • Can you describe how your tinnitus sounds? 
  • Have you recently experienced acoustic trauma, been exposed to continuous noise, or dealt with an unusually stressful situation?
  • Have you suffered any recent physical injuries?

After noting your response to each question, the physician will carry out various diagnostic tests, potentially including a hearing exam, a balance test, imaging, and bloodwork. Finally, the physician will conduct a tinnitus analysis to determine the volume and pitch of the noise in your ear. This will allow them to determine the frequency of the noise and give them further clues as to its possible origin. 
How do I stop tinnitus?
Plenty of pseudoscientific treatments on the web purport to be immediate 'cures' for tinnitus symptoms. These fall into the same category as ear candling. They virtually never work and frequently cause more harm than good. 

There's no way to 'stop' tinnitus—but there are ways to lessen or gradually eliminate the symptoms.
What tinnitus treatments are there?
Depending on the nature of your tinnitus, treatments may include: 
  • Cortisone or medication that stimulates circulation. Typically, this is only prescribed in cases of acute tinnitus, with symptoms lasting three months or less. 
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). The most common treatment method for tinnitus, TRT, aims to help patients suffering from chronic tinnitus gradually suppress their perception of the condition. It typically consists of a combination of education, sound therapy, and cognitive behavioral therapy. 
  • White noise machines.  White noise is an excellent way to make tinnitus less noticeable, as continuous background noise frequently overwhelms the condition. If you cannot afford a specialized white noise machine (or would prefer not to purchase one), then a fan, humidifier, dehumidifier, or air conditioner will also suffice. 
  • Hearing assistance devices. Many modern hearing aids now include tinnitus management functionality such as a noiser. And if your tinnitus is directly connected to hearing loss, wearing a hearing aid may cause the condition to resolve itself by eliminating the root cause. 
Can Tinnitus be prevented?
Yes and no. In many ways, tinnitus is similar to hearing loss. While you can do things to reduce your chances of developing the condition, there is ultimately no way to guarantee you'll never develop it. 

Tips for tinnitus prevention and management include: 
  • If you cannot avoid excessive noise, wear protective gear such as specialized earplugs or headphones to prevent it. 
  • Manage your stress—learn when to take a step back and relax because tinnitus probably won't be the only issue your chronic stress causes. 
  • Fix your sleep schedule.  Sleep deprivation is proven to make tinnitus worse, and chronic sleep issues may be linked to the development of tinnitus. 
  • Get regular exercise, but be careful not to overdo it.
  • Stop smoking, as tinnitus is a common side effect of cigarettes.
  • Watch what you eat, and consume alcohol only in moderation.