Do you experience a buzzing, ticking, humming, or hissing sound in your ears? If so, take note – you’re not alone. Nearly 15 million Americans experience this sensation called tinnitus.

I’m often asked about tinnitus, so I’ve written this Q&A article to address the most common questions.

  1. What is tinnitus, and how do people get it?
  2. Tinnitus is when you “hear” sounds that don’t exist due to a problem within your ears. It presents itself as intermittent, constant, or fluctuant sounds such as a buzz or hiss.

People working in loud environments, especially for prolonged periods, are most likely to get tinnitus.

  1. Are there other ways someone can get tinnitus?
  2. Yes, absolutely. Tinnitus is also associated with hearing loss, stress, compacted earwax, head trauma, certain medications, and neurological diseases. It can also be experienced if you have vertigo or ear pressure.

But I must stress that tinnitus is a symptom of a condition and not a disease itself.  It can come and go, having only a small impact on one’s life, but sometimes it’s a continuous sound, and this can make life difficult by interfering with sleep and causing insomnia, for example.

Here’s some good news, though – tinnitus doesn’t cause deafness

50% of cases improve with time, but if you’re struggling, I will encourage you to book an appointment with one of my team or me for support.

  1. Are there different types?
  2. There are two types – subjective and objective.

The most common type is subjective tinnitus, meaning only you can hear it. It stems from problems within your outer, middle, or inner ear. Or sometimes, there are difficulties with the hearing nerves or with how the brain interprets nerve signals as sound.

With objective tinnitus, a doctor can hear it during an examination. The sound is caused by structures near the ear such as blood vessels, the tiny bones within the middle ear, or muscle contractions. Note that this is a very rare form of tinnitus, but it’s also quite severe and takes longer to treat.

  1. Is tinnitus curable?
  2. There’s no specific cure, but there are ways to treat tinnitus through distraction and relaxation techniques, and hearing devices.

You could try playing background music on the radio or running a fan to distract yourself or mask your tinnitus. Sound generators play nature sounds, giving you something else to concentrate on.

Tinnitus maskers can also be helpful, especially if your tinnitus is constant. A hearing aid case is fitted with an electric instrument that creates sounds different to your tinnitus. Hearing aids may also mask tinnitus.

Sometimes, relaxation provides relief. Anxiety increases tinnitus, so rest and avoiding strenuous activities are essential.

Biofeedback training helps some people – once you learn how to relax your muscles through specific exercises, tinnitus can be easier to cope with.

Occasionally, medication can help, but at the same time, tinnitus can be a medication side effect. If you’re taking medication, it’s worth discussing with your doctor if your medication could be causing your tinnitus. The tinnitus could stop with just a change in medication.

  1. Which foods should I avoid and what lifestyle changes should I make?
  2. Stress can worsen your tinnitus, so any measures to decrease stress in your life would certainly help. Caffeine and smoking are also triggers. Both are stimulants that aggravate the ear nerves. This can result in a spike in your tinnitus’ intensity.
  3. What first step should I take?

As previously mentioned, tinnitus maskers and hearing aids can often reduce tinnitus symptoms. If you’re concerned about your tinnitus, or you are at risk for getting it, I would be happy to discuss treatment options with you in more detail. You can call me at 781-863-8282 and our hearing tests are free of charge.