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Tinnitus: Basic Facts

Do you hear a buzzing, hissing or ringing sound inside your ears when no external sound is present? Don't think it's just in your head because you're not alone. Tinnitus or ringing in the ears can be mild or severe, depending on its frequency, duration and level of discomfort.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly 15% of the general public, over 50 million Americans, experience some form of tinnitus. Approximately 20 million people struggle with chronic tinnitus, while two million have extreme and debilitating cases.

Man with tinnitus

Risk factors include:

  • Aging
  • Noise exposure from work, headphones, concerts, explosives
  • Smoking
  • Gender, as men are affected more than women
  • Hearing loss 

Tinnitus is more common in men, seniors, musicians, construction workers, military personnel, and people with common health problems, such as arthritis, hypertension, varicose veins, and arteriosclerosis. The worse your hearing is, the more likely you are to have tinnitus.

There are two main types of tinnitus - primary and secondary.

Man playing guitar
  • Primary: This can be heard only by the person. It is the most common type of tinnitus.
  • Secondary: This can be heard by somebody examining the person and is very uncommon. It can be caused by a variety of physical effects such as a spasm of the tiny muscles in the middle ear, abnormalities in the blood vessels or increased blood flow to the ear. 

Tinnitus can negatively affect a patient’s overall health and social well-being. Even moderate cases can interfere with the ability to work and socialize. People with tinnitus often experience:

  • Distress
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability or frustration
  • Poor concentration

While there is no cure, counseling and sound therapy are successful strategies for dealing with tinnitus. Counseling methods are based on cognitive behavioral therapy and work to understand the physical process that causes tinnitus and manage the reaction to the sound. Sound therapy uses noise, music, or other engaging sounds to help direct a person’s attention away from the tinnitus and to reduce stress.

Man having hearing examPatients with hearing loss can also be treated with hearing aids to improve communication. Hearing aids are able to amplify the environment to help patients minimize tinnitus awareness. If amplification alone is not successful, a tinnitus therapy signal can also be enabled within the hearing aid to reduce tinnitus awareness and improve relaxation.

The Pennsylvania Ear Institute (PEI) offers a variety of tinnitus evaluation and management services. Our tinnitus experts create customized treatment plans to fit a patient’s needs.  

For more information, please call 215.780.3180.