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July 14, 2020

Tinnitus: Ringing in the Ears: A 2020 Guide

Tinnitus has commonly been described as a ringing in the ear, though the sounds resulting from tinnitus could also be described as a hissing, clicking, whistling or whirring. Unfortunately, for many people, tinnitus is a daily and ongoing permanent reality.

The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the sensory cells in the cochlea. This is the snail shell-like organ in the inner ear where sounds are converted into electrical signals. Damage to the hair cells here can cause tinnitus and hearing loss.

illustration of a cut-away of the inner ear

However, some people who experience tinnitus don’t have hearing loss; this means that there is more than one cause. Tinnitus can also be caused by a middle ear infection, earwax build-up, inflamed blood vessels around the ear, medications and other drugs, anxiety and stress.

Types of tinnitus

Tinnitus can generally be divided into two types of physical conditions: subjective and objective.

The most common form of tinnitus is subjective tinnitus. This tinnitus involves you hearing annoying whistling/buzzing/high-pitched noises that are there just not heard by other people so cannot be heard externally.  Some causes for subjective tinnitus include but are not limited to:

  • Ear damage from loud noises
  • Some drugs
  • Ear Infections
  • Some diseases and neurological disorders
  • Hearing loss
  • Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus

concertObjective tinnitus is a rarer form of this condition where your blood vessels or muscles are making noises that are loud enough for you to hear. In this case unlike subjective tinnitus the noises can be heard externally by others upon examination for example your doctor may be able to hear it during your hearing test. This tinnitus can be caused by

  • Muscle spasms around the middle ear
  • Myoclonus or a vascular condition

Tinnitus and your quality of life

doctor consulting with woman holding hands up to her earsAccording to The Hearing Foundation of Canada, more than 360,000 Canadians experience tinnitus with almost 50% of those cases being severe enough to affect their quality of life. Those with tinnitus may experience a reduced ability to concentrate, a hypersensitivity to sound, and they may also experience depression and fatigue. In some instances, tinnitus can affect your social life as well.

Relieving tinnitus

people sitting around a meeting tableCurrently, there is no cure for tinnitus that is recognized by the medical community, but there are ways to cope. Many people with tinnitus say that stressing and/or focusing on buzzing caused by this condition can make the experience worse. Consult a hearing professional if you think you may have tinnitus; he or she may refer you to an ENT that can assess and treat your tinnitus.

What is sound therapy?

man with headphones looking at smartphoneSound therapy uses external sounds to relieve that annoying ringing in the ear associated with tinnitus. The main sound therapy options are masking, distraction, habituation and neuromodulation.

  • Masking produces a sound loud enough to drown out the ringing.
  • Distraction sound therapy produces a sound to distract from the ringing caused by tinnitus.
  • Habituation sound therapy works with your brain to reclassify the ringing in your ear as a sound that can be ignored.
  • Neuromodulation treats tinnitus by using a specialized sound to target the brains nervous system in hopes of reducing the ringing caused by tinnitus.

If you suspect you have tinnitus, book an appointment with one of our hearing professionals today to verify and discuss treatment options! Click the button below to learn more.