Derived from the Latin word for “ringing,” tinnitus refers to the phenomenon of perceiving sounds within the ear that have no external source—in other words, hearing sounds that are not there. While ringing is one of the most common manifestations, other sounds “heard” during tinnitus also include roaring, hissing, whooshing, whistling, chirping, and clicking.
Tinnitus affects approximately 10%-15% of all adults.
While most people experience moments or brief periods of hearing ringing in their ears at some time in their lives, usually after extended exposure to a noisy environment or following a sudden, extremely loud sound, some people experience the condition on a more serious level. Because it is impossible to measure tinnitus directly, hearing professionals typically attempt to establish the severity of the condition through a series of questions:
- Does the ringing affect one or both ears?
- Is the sound constant or sporadic?
- What is the perceived pitch and volume?
- Does the ringing affect daily activities like sleep or work?
- Are there are any external factors, such as drinking caffeinated beverages, that make the sound seem worse?
For those experiencing tinnitus, it is important to remember that tinnitus itself is a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself, just as a headache can be a symptom of many different illnesses. To effectively treat or manage tinnitus, identifying the underlying cause is the first step. Some causes, such as excess earwax buildup, hypertension and stress, anemia, or overconsumption of caffeine or cigarettes, can be treated or eliminated relatively easily.