What is tinnitus?

If you’ve ever attended a rock concert or loud sporting event, or worked with noisy equipment like a chainsaw, you might have experienced a ringing sound in your ears. No one else hears it and it sounds like it’s coming from inside your head. No, you’re not crazy, you’re experiencing tinnitus.

Tinnitus, which comes from the Latin for ‘ringing,’ can also sound like buzzing, whistling or humming. It can happen in one or both ears and may be intermittent or consistent. For most of us the sound goes away after a while, but , 10-20% of the population has ongoing, chronic tinnitus.

What Causes Tinnitus?

Aside from the common ringing in the ears caused by loud noise, there can be underlying causes that often result in long-term tinnitus.

Some common causes:

  • Exposure to loud noise
  • Age-related hearing loss, known as presbycusis.
  • Earwax blockage
  • Otosclerosis, which is a stiffening of the bones in the middle ear that can cause tinnitus. This tends to be genetic.
  • Any kind of head or neck trauma can trigger tinnitus along with other symptoms like vertigo and headaches.

Less common causes:

  • Meniere’s Disease—causes vertigo and some hearing loss.
  • TMJ disorders—the temperomandibular joint is in front of your ear on each side of the head. Any problem with the TMJ can cause ringing in the ears.
  • Acoustic Neuroma—this is a benign tumor on the cranial nerve in the inner ear. This usually causes tinnitus in only one ear.

While you probably can’t prevent tinnitus caused by underlying conditions, you can be mindful of the noisy world around us.