Tinnitus is an auditory sensation characterised by the perception of sounds that are not from an external source. In this article, we explain what can cause tinnitus and if there is anything that can be done to treat it.

Understanding tinnitus

Can you image what it would be like to hear buzzing or ringing in your ears all day long? What it would be like to live with an annoying noise that does not give you a moment’s rest?

5% of the world’s population suffers tinnitus, and they experience that constant, unexplained noise every day. This number is expected to rise in the coming decades to reach 400 million people in the world who will never again experience silence.

According to the audiology business group Grupo Empresarial Audiológico (GEA), tinnitus affects up to 10% of the population in Spain, of which 3% require medical treatment.

Types of tinnitus

Tinnitus is a symptom, not a disease, and can vary in severity and type of sound, which may be heard in different parts of the head, or in one or both ears. However, when the noise is similar to a rhythmic pulsing that is in time with the heartbeat, it is known as pulsatile tinnitus.

There are two main types of tinnitus:

  1. Objective tinnitus: this is the rarest form of tinnitus and is caused by vascular conditions or abnormal muscle spasms around the middle ear.
  2. Subjective tinnitus: the most common form of tinnitus, it can be triggered at any point in the auditory canal from the outer ear to the brain.

What causes tinnitus?

The main causes of tinnitus are:

  • Prolonged exposure to loud noises: headphones, explosions, music speakers at concerts, firearms, etc.
  • Sudden deafness
  • High doses of ototoxic drugs or toxic substances that damage the inner ear
  • Traumatic head injury
  • Compacted ear wax
  • Middle ear infections
  • A perilymph fistula (damage or tear in the ear)
  • Jaw dysfunction (temporomandibular joint dysfunction)
  • Ménière’s disease
  • Stress, anxiety or exhaustion
  • High cholesterol and blood pressure levels
  • Activities that involve sudden, sharp changes in pressure: scuba diving, skydiving…

Can tinnitus be treated?

There is currently no scientifically-proven treatment or cure for tinnitus. However, there has been some promising research on the condition, including an experiment at the University of Michigan in which a device was capable of decreasing tinnitus by up to 12 decibels.

 

Now that you know more about the most common causes of tinnitus, make sure you avoid exposure to loud noise whenever you can. If you do notice an unexplained whistle, buzzing, clicking or whooshing sound in your ear, we recommend you visit your doctor to try to alleviate the symptoms as much as possible.