What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus has commonly been described as a ringing in the ear, though the sounds could also be described as a hissing, clicking, whistling, or whirring. Brief moments of tinnitus, lasting anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, are very common, but for some individuals, tinnitus is a daily, ongoing reality. Some individuals experience constant tinnitus, while for others it may be frequent but not constant. Depending on its severity, tinnitus can sometimes be quite stressful for the person experiencing it. Some people with constant tinnitus are able to ignore it and live with it, while for others it may be hard to ignore.
According to The Hearing Foundation of Canada, more than 360,000 Canadians experience tinnitus with almost 50% of those cases being severe enough to affect their quality of life. Those with tinnitus may experience a reduced ability to concentrate, difficulty falling asleep, hypersensitivity to sound, and may also experience depression and fatigue. In some instances, tinnitus can affect your social life as well.
There are multiple strategies and treatment plans to help reduce the impact of tinnitus. Many people with ongoing tinnitus can manage their symptoms to the point where tinnitus does not bother them anymore.
Possible causes of tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not a disease or illness; it is a symptom generated within the auditory system and usually caused by an underlying condition. The most common cause of tinnitus is damage to the sensory cells in the cochlea. The cochlea is the organ in the inner ear where sounds are converted into electrical signals for the brain. This is the same sort of damage that can cause hearing loss. For example, tinnitus and hearing loss are both quite common among individuals who have been exposed to excessive noise, like some industrial workers.
However, not everyone who experiences long-lasting tinnitus has hearing loss. Tinnitus can also be caused by a middle ear infection, earwax build-up, inflamed blood vessels around the ear, medications and other drugs, or anxiety and stress.
Tinnitus assessment and treatment
If you experience frequent or constant ringing, humming, or other noise in your ears, audiologists recommend that you start by booking a hearing assessment at a hearing clinic. There are two reasons for this:
Tinnitus often co-occurs with other hearing health conditions, such as hearing loss. A licensed hearing professional will be able to test you for such conditions, and make a medical referral if necessary.
If your tinnitus is bothering you, the hearing professional can counsel you on how to manage it, and can recommend or refer you for further treatment.
HearingLife Canada offers a brief questionnaire to determine whether you may be experiencing symptoms of tinnitus and/or hearing loss:
Or, if you would like to go ahead and find a hearing centre in Canada to book a hearing assessment, you can use the map on the following webpage: