Do you hear sounds that you know don’t come from an external source? This is a symptom of tinnitus – a condition in which you hear noises – including ringing, buzzing, hissing or humming – that are generated by your brain and not your environment.
Tinnitus is not a disease, but rather a symptom that something is not working properly in your auditory (hearing) system. This could be something within your ear, the nerve connecting your ear to your brain, or the part of your brain that processes sound.
Tinnitus is common, affecting about two in three people in Australia at some time in their lives. Approximately one in every five to ten people experience tinnitus that significantly impacts their quality of life.
While the exact cause of tinnitus isn’t fully understood, there are known factors which can place you at higher risk for developing it. These include:
1. Loud noise exposure
Regular exposure to loud noises is associated with both hearing loss and tinnitus. This is because ongoing exposure causes damage to the tiny hair cells in your inner ear that help transmit sound to your brain. You may be at risk of tinnitus if you work in a noisy environment, such as a factory, airport, construction site, or entertainment venue. Military personnel and veterans may also be at risk due to exposure to sounds from firearms and bomb blasts.
Tinnitus can also be associated with regularly listening to loud music through headphones or frequenting noisy concerts, with long-term exposure potentially causing permanent damage to your hearing system.
As you get older, there is a decline in the number of functioning nerve fibres in your ears. This may lead to hearing problems and tinnitus.
3. Lifestyle factors
Several lifestyle factors are associated with a higher risk for developing tinnitus, including:
- Alcohol and caffeine use
- Repeatedly hyperextending your neck, such as in regular cycling
- Severe weight loss
- A rapid change in environmental pressure (barotrauma), which can sometimes happen during scuba-diving or flying
- Stress and lack of sleep have also been linked with tinnitus.
4. Some health conditions
Certain health conditions are associated with tinnitus risk, including:
- Ear and sinus infections
- Diseases affecting the heart or blood vessels
- Head injuries
- Thyroid problems
- Ménière’s disease
- Hormonal changes in women
- Conditions affecting the brain
5. Some medications
Over 200 drugs have been linked with developing tinnitus when you start or stop taking them.
Remember, although there are many known risk factors and conditions associated with tinnitus, you can develop it for no known reason. The most important thing is getting your symptoms assessed. Tinnitus is only rarely a sign of a more serious health problem. However, when left unmanaged, it can be frustrating and significantly affect your lifestyle. Loud and persistent tinnitus can even lead to difficulties with sleep, metal health and cognitive function.
Help for tinnitus sufferers
If you’re experiencing ringing, buzzing, hissing or humming sounds, Active Audiology’s experienced and caring team can help. Our highly trained audiologists can conduct a thorough assessment to find out more about your symptoms and discover whether an underlying hearing loss could be a contributing factor. We can also offer a range of treatments to help manage tinnitus, so you can get on with doing the things that matter to you.
All information is general in nature.