What Is Tinnitus and How Long Does It Last?

If you are experiencing persistent ringing or buzzing in your ears, you may be one of the millions of people in the United States with tinnitus.

To help you better understand what you are experiencing, it is necessary to understand what tinnitus is, what it is not, and how it can be managed.

What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is defined as the perception of sound when there is no external noise.

Commonly described as a ringing in the ears, it can also present itself as a buzzing, whistling, hissing, wooshing, or a clicking sound.

The intensity and frequency levels may vary from person to person and may occur in one or both ears. Tinnitus may be chronic and ongoing or a temporary experience.

One theory as to the origin of tinnitus is that damage to the inner ear alters the signal carried by the nerves to the auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes sound. The sound you are ‘hearing’ is not actually created in the ear but in the brain by the auditory complex.

For many, tinnitus comes and goes and may not have a significant impact on quality of life. For others, it can be persistent and debilitating and may even worsen over time.

How Common is Tinnitus and How Long Does it Last?

Tinnitus is a remarkably common experience. It is estimated that 10% of the adult population in the United States, roughly 25 million people, experience some type of tinnitus.

Temporary tinnitus is quite common, especially after exposure to high-decibel sounds. Attending loud events like concerts can trigger short-lived episodes of ringing in the ears, which usually subside independently after a few hours.

Certain medications, like high-dose aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), have been known to cause tinnitus. Fortunately, this condition is also temporary and disappears after discontinuing the medication.

Chronic tinnitus is characterized by persistent ringing or buzzing in the ears that lasts more than six months. When tinnitus occurs more than once a week, for more than 5 minutes at a time, it can be considered a pathological condition, and may indicate cochlear damage.

The exact causes of tinnitus are not known, but the condition has been linked to:

  • Exposure to loud noises (concerts, sporting events, heavy machinery in a workplace, explosives, gunfire, etc)
  • Hearing loss
  • Medications (NSAIDs, certain cancer medications, some antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-malaria medications)
  • Ear wax or ear infections
  • Head or neck injury

Less commonly, tinnitus has been linked to:

  • Ménière’s disease (an inner ear condition that can also impact balance and hearing health)
  • Issues with the jaw joint
  • Tumor-related disorders (brain tumors and benign acoustic neuroma)
  • Problems with blood vessels
  • Chronic conditions like diabetes, migraines, lupus, multiple sclerosis, and thyroid disorders

Common Misconceptions About Tinnitus

Living with chronic tinnitus can be overwhelming, as the progression of the condition often follows an unpredictable path. While some individuals may experience consistent symptoms, others may notice a deterioration of their condition over time.

Unfortunately, there are some misconceptions surrounding tinnitus that can cause unnecessary stress and hinder individuals from seeking the appropriate treatment.

Here are some common misconceptions about tinnitus:

  • Tinnitus is just a symptom of aging: While it is true that tinnitus tends to be more prevalent among older adults, it can affect people of all ages, including younger individuals.
  • Tinnitus is a sign of hearing loss: Although tinnitus and hearing loss can coexist, they are not necessarily intertwined. Tinnitus can arise from various factors unrelated to hearing loss, such as the side effects of medications or underlying health conditions.
  • Tinnitus is a sign of a severe health problem: In most cases, tinnitus is not a sign of a severe medical issue. However, you should consult with an audiologist to determine if there is an underlying cause.

Managing Tinnitus

While tinnitus may not have a definitive cure, there are available strategies that can help manage and even minimize the symptoms.

Here are some of the things that can be done to improve or manage the condition:

  • Consult an audiologist: Seek professional help from an audiologist specializing in tinnitus management. Audiologists can evaluate your condition, identify the underlying cause, and develop personalized treatment plans.
  • Hearing Aids: Patients report a significant decrease in tinnitus when using hearing aids as a means of tinnitus management. Some hearing aids, such as the Widex Moment Hearing Aid, have built-in Zen tones to reduce tinnitus. This feature can be used for patients with or without hearing loss.
  • Sound therapy: Background noise or sound therapy techniques, such as white noise machines, hearing aids with masking features, or smartphone apps, can help distract from the tinnitus sounds and provide symptom relief.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT techniques can help individuals reframe their thoughts and emotional responses to tinnitus, reducing its impact on daily life and improving overall well-being.
  • Stress management: Stress can exacerbate tinnitus symptoms. Engaging in stress reduction techniques such as exercise, meditation, or counseling can be beneficial in managing tinnitus.
  • Lifestyle adjustments: Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, and adequate sleep, can contribute to overall well-being and potentially alleviate tinnitus symptoms.

Managing Tinnitus for Improved Quality of Life

If you are suffering from tinnitus, understanding the nature of the condition and exploring effective management strategies is crucial. Tinnitus can be challenging, but seeking professional assistance from audiologists can make a significant difference.

At Chicago Hearing Services, we provide tailored hearing care support to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Our experts are here to guide you every step towards better hearing health.

Contact us to schedule a tinnitus evaluation. From there, we can support your tinnitus journey and share management strategies that can address your symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.

About Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D.

Dr. Marie Vetter-Toalson Au.D. is the owner of Chicago Hearing Services and a Doctor of Audiology dedicated to empowering her patients and the public with greater knowledge and education around hearing health.