Tinnitus is the perception of a sound when no noise is present. The sound is often a ringing, buzzing, hissing, clicking, swooshing, or whistling, and may be heard temporarily or ongoing. Tinnitus is very common, affecting roughly 45 million Americans. It can range in severity from slightly bothersome to severely interfering with daily life. While there are many causes of tinnitus, hearing loss is the most common cause. The elderly and those who are exposed to loud noises are at higher risk of developing tinnitus. Blocking in the middle ear, such from ear wax, congestion, loose hair, or foreign objects, is another common cause of tinnitus. Other causes include injury to the head or neck with damage to nerves, muscles, and blood flow, injury to the lower jaw, medication side effects, and inherited health conditions.
The symptoms of tinnitus often fall into three main categories. Tonal tinnitus is the presence of a continuous sound of the same frequency but differing in volume. Pulsatile tinnitus occurs when the sound is in a beat, often following the heartbeat of the individual. Musical tinnitus is a rare form where an individual hears music or singing that repeats in a loop-like fashion. Over 99% of cases are subjective tinnitus, where other people cannot hear the noises of an individual affected by tinnitus. In rare cases, the noise may be heard when examining the individual, which is known as objective tinnitus and is most often seen with pulsatile tinnitus.
Treatment for tinnitus is often aimed at addressing the underlying cause. While there are often no definitive cures, various treatments may help reduce the impact of the condition on daily life. Treatments include increasing general well-being through diet, exercise, and stress reduction. Medication and therapy may also be used. If you or your child is experiencing tinnitus, talk to your doctor about the most current treatment options.