Tinnitus is defined as a constant or intermittent ringing sound heard in the ears or head that does not have an outside source. An estimated 37% of adult Canadians reported experiencing tinnitus in the past year, according to Statistics Canada. About 7% of those said the constant buzzing in their ears was bothersome enough to affect their sleep, concentration and mood.
Symptoms of tinnitus
Tinnitus may be described as hissing, buzzing, ringing, roaring or rushing. Some people report sounds like insects droning or engines running. It can be constant, or intermittent. Many people notice it more at night, or when there are no other sounds around to distract them.
The severity of tinnitus varies in people and may range from a mild annoyance for one person but interfere with work or daily activities for another person. Tinnitus has been associated with a variety of ailments, and while there is no known cure, there are a variety of management options.
Causes of tinnitus
It’s important to know the sound is NOT imagined and is NOT a disease – it is a symptom of a malfunction somewhere in the hearing system. The exact physiological mechanism of tinnitus is not known, but research has shown there are several possible causes or triggers:
Hearing loss and tinnitus
Many people with tinnitus report certain behaviours or dietary habits can trigger, or worsen, their tinnitus. These include caffeine, alcohol, high doses of aspirin, excessive salt in the diet, noise exposure, smoking and stress or anxiety.
Treatments for tinnitus
Although there is no “cure” for tinnitus, there are several at-home remedies and other tinnitus treatments that have been developed to help people dealing with ringing in the ears, including hearing aids. Management of tinnitus focuses on quality of life.
When should you see a specialist for your tinnitus?
It’s always a good idea to get your tinnitus evaluated by a hearing care professional. In some cases, you may be referred to emergency care, or an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, throat specialist). Reasons for this include:
If you experience any of these symptoms in conjunction with tinnitus you should seek immediate medical attention.
How to get help
Tinnitus is a widespread and variable ailment that impacts people differently. It is normal to feel upset and anxious when you experience tinnitus, as it can be an unsettling and disruptive experience. Don't be hesitant to seek out behavioural help to minimize the emotional impact tinnitus has on your life. Visit a hearing professional near you to complete a hearing test and discuss your options for treatment.