What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the term for the perception of sound in one or both ears - or in the head - in the absence of any ‘real’ sound from outside. It’s often referred to as ‘ringing in the ears,’ although some people hear hissing, rushing, roaring, whistling, chirping or clicking noises.
Who does it affect?
Anyone can experience tinnitus, but it’s most common in those who have been exposed to high levels of noise in their jobs or hobbies (for example, musicians or machine operators). It’s also more common as we get older.
What causes tinnitus?
The actual mechanism responsible for tinnitus is not yet known. However, we do know that it is a real - not imagined - symptom of something wrong in the auditory or neural system. The most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to excessively loud noise, either a single intense event (like a shotgun blast) or long-term exposure either through work (musicians, carpenters, farm workers, pilots) or during recreational activities (shooting, chainsaws, loud music). Tinnitus can also result from trauma to the head or neck and a small percentage of tinnitus cases arise from medical conditions. Finally, prescription and over-the-counter drugs can cause or exacerbate tinnitus.
How common is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is unfortunately a very common condition. 18% of the Australian population experience tinnitus at some point in their lives.
Does it mean I’m going deaf?
No. Whilst tinnitus is often an indication that there has been some kind of damage to the auditory system, it does not mean that you will become deaf. Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, and hearing loss does not cause tinnitus, although the two often exist together.
How do you treat tinnitus?
Whilst there is no cure, the symptoms can often be managed by treating the underlying cause of tinnitus, or by altering reactions to it. It’s important to note that these options don’t work to the same degree for everyone – which is why it’s so important to discuss your personal situation with an audiologist.
What makes tinnitus worse?
Loud noise! It’s so important for your total hearing health to protect yourself from loud noise. Excessive use of alcohol can also exacerbate tinnitus for some people, as can caffeine and nicotine. Many drugs can cause tinnitus, including aspirin and many antibiotics. Stress is also a major factor, and many of our patients report they notice a reduction in the volume of their tinnitus when their stress levels are lower.
Can tinnitus affect children?
Yes, people of all ages can be troubled by tinnitus, even very young children. Children are less likely to say they have tinnitus because they may not notice a problem or understand what it could be. Many children with tinnitus seem to grow out of it before they reach adulthood. If you think your child has tinnitus, see your child's GP or an audiologist.
I think I have tinnitus – what should I do?
If you have any concerns about your hearing or tinnitus, it’s so important to see a qualified audiologist as soon as possible. Tinnitus can be a debilitating condition that often leaves people feeling frustrated, depressed and struggling to sleep. The sooner you talk to a professional, the sooner you can find strategies to help you.