Tinnitus (tin-it-is) is the conscious awareness of a sound sensation in either a person’s head or ear/s in the absence of an external sound source. Tinnitus is not limited to ringing in the ears. Some people experience tinnitus as a buzzing sound, a hiss, or even a repetitive musical tone. Tinnitus may be constant or intermittent and the pitch and loudness may vary.
Tinnitus occurs in 15 to 35% of people with normal hearing and presents in approximately 50 to 60% percent of individuals with hearing losses. Different types of hearing losses are more typically associated with tinnitus. Age-related hearing loss and hearing losses caused by significant noise exposure are commonly associated with tinnitus. Tinnitus can be experienced by both adults and children. While many people experience tinnitus, only a few of these people will find it very bothersome or debilitating. The mechanism underlying tinnitus is a complex one. Tinnitus originates from damage occurring to the primary organ of hearing (the cochlea of the inner ear) and asynchronous activity at the auditory nerve (the nerve carrying information from the ear to the brain). This asynchronous nerve activity is experienced as tinnitus and often occurs at a pitch corresponding to the region responsible for interpreting that particular pitch in the cochlea, which has been damaged. An anxious response to the tinnitus can heighten a person’s awareness of the sound, which in turn, can exacerbate this person’s experience of the sound.
Although the sound of tinnitus may not always be eradicated, it need not be as bothersome to the individual, and its impact on a person’s quality of life can be minimised or managed.
Should you be experiencing tinnitus, it is recommended that you consult an audiologist in order to undergo a hearing evaluation. Thereafter, consultation with an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist is highly recommended. The ENT will establish whether medical management is required.