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What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is commonly described as a ringing in the ears, but it also can sound like roaring, clicking, hissing, or buzzing to those who suffer from it. It may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched and in either one or both ears.

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) estimates that approximately 10 percent of the country's adult population, over 25 million Americans, experience some form of tinnitus. It is especially common in people over the age of 55 and strongly associated with hearing loss.

Construction worker with headphonesThe more common causes of tinnitus include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Noise exposure from work, headphones, concerts, explosives
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Meniere’s disease
  • Medications

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

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. 

Man getting fitted for a hearing aidAlmost everyone has had tinnitus for a short time after being exposed to extremely loud noise. Attending a loud concert can trigger short-lived tinnitus. Some medications can cause tinnitus that goes away when the drug is discontinued. More than 200 drugs are known to cause tinnitus when you start or stop taking them.

Most of the time, tinnitus isn’t a sign of a serious health problem, although if it’s loud or doesn’t go away, it can cause fatigue, depression, anxiety, and problems with memory and concentration.

Although there’s no proven cure for tinnitus, there are many different treatments that help make it easier to ignore. Because tinnitus is so common among people with hearing loss, properly fitted hearing aids can be very helpful. Modern hearing aids not only come with tinnitus masking features, they also help retrain the brain to focus on desired sounds, known as sound therapy.

Woman getting hearing testCounseling 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 tinnitus and to reduce stress.

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.