Tinnitus: What’s that noise? Ringing in ear may be the sound of hearing loss

Tinnitus: What’s that noise? Ringing in ear may be the sound of hearing loss
Ringing in your ears may be tinnitus

Tinnitus is when you hear a sound, but only you can hear it because it's not coming from "out there."

The most common sounds associated with tinnitus are ringing, humming and buzzing. Sometimes the sound is always present, and sometimes it comes and goes. It can affect one ear, or both ears at the same time.

People with tinnitus often have some hearing loss. Sometimes they also suffer from loudness hyperacusis, when moderately loud sounds are perceived as being very loud.

Tinnitus can become serious enough to impact your everyday life, so it’s important to have it evaluated by an audiologist or physician as soon as you notice it. There are many new developments in the treatment and management of tinnitus. Talk to your audiologist about what approach would work best for you, and enjoy hearing once again.

Common causes of tinnitus

  • Loud noises (machines, loud music or shooting)
  • A head injury
  • A side-effect from some medications
  • A natural part of aging

How tinnitus affects you

Different people will experience different problems caused by tinnitus. Some of the most common effects are:

  • Hearing – For some people, the sound of tinnitus is loud enough or distracting enough that it affects how they hear speech or other sounds around them.
  • Concentration – Some people with tinnitus find that it interferes with their ability to concentrate on other things like reading or following a conversation.
  • Sleeping – Many people with tinnitus find that it prevents them from falling asleep at night, or from going back to sleep if they wake up in the middle of the night.
  • Thoughts and emotions — Some people with tinnitus have a hard time focusing on other things, and this leaves them feeling annoyed, depressed, anxious or angry about their condition.

Treatments for tinnitus

In cases where tinnitus is caused by a medication, stopping or changing the medication can eliminate the tinnitus. But for most people who suffer from tinnitus, there isn’t a cure. However, there are several treatment options available to help people adjust to their tinnitus:

  • Sound therapy – Background noise has been shown to diminish the prominence and loudness of tinnitus in many people. Devices can be worn with hearing aids to mask the sound of the tinnitus. Non-wearable devices are very popular as well – they include fans, music and noise machines with sounds like waves or raindrops.
  • Counseling – Counseling can help people with the side effects of tinnitus including concentration, sleeping, and thoughts and emotions. Tinnitus Activities Treatment is a type of individualized counseling focused on each of these areas.
  • Hearing aids —Using hearing aids doesn’t just improve overall hearing, but also hearing aids reduce the strain to hear speech. Lessening the strain to hear over the ringing in one’s ears can reduce the stress that tinnitus can cause. Also, hearing aids amplify background sounds, which can partially mask the tinnitus. According to the Better Hearing Institute, 28 percent of people who used hearing aids reported a moderate to substantial reduction in their tinnitus when they used their hearing aids. The more comprehensive the hearing aid fitting protocol that was used, the more relief the patients had from their tinnitus.


About this Angie’s List Expert: Marci Smith, of Ascent Audiology & Hearing in McLean, Va., has been a board certified audiologist for over 18 years. She specializes in delivering prescriptive hearing devices that best fit individual lifestyle and hearing needs. She earned her undergraduate degree in hearing and speech sciences from the University of Maryland at College Park, and her Master’s Degree in Audiology from The George Washington University. Follow this #ALExperts contributor on Twitter @HearingAidDocs1.

As of March 25, 2014, this service provider was highly rated on Angie's List. Ratings are subject to change based on consumer feedback, so check Angie's List for the most up-to-date reviews. The views expressed by this author do not necessarily reflect those of Angie's List.