One of the most common misconceptions about tinnitus — an affliction of the ear that’s characterized by ringing, swooshing, clicking, ticking or buzzing noise — is that it is, by itself, a health issue. The fact of the matter is that tinnitus is usually a symptom of some other health condition. Most tinnitus is characterized as subjective, meaning the noises are only perceived by the individual experiencing it.

This type of tinnitus is usually a sensorineural reaction in the brain, often caused by trauma to the ear or auditory system. While tinnitus is usually caused by or associated with hearing loss, the American Tinnitus Association (ATA) reports that roughly 200 health disorders can generate tinnitus symptoms.

Hearing loss and tinnitus

Hearing loss, either caused by normal aging or noise-related hearing loss (NIHL), is believed to be the most common cause of tinnitus. In fact, many hearing loss and tinnitus researchers believe tinnitus cannot exist without some damage to the auditory system. Two types of hearing loss can contribute to tinnitus symptoms: age-related and noise-induced hearing loss.

Age-related hearing loss is also referred to as presbycusis. As such, the issue is quite common in Americans, starting around the age of 60. This form of hearing loss typically occurs in both ears and involves the sensory loss of high-frequency sounds. Because of the high occurrence of presbycusis in seniors, many hearing healthcare professionals often find patients complain about tinnitus as well.

Noise-induced hearing loss, on the other hand, can occur at any age. NIHL is caused by overexposure to loud noises, either in a single traumatic experience or over time. NIHL damages the auditory system, resulting in hearing loss and quite often, tinnitus.

Ear obstructions

Obstructions or blockages in the ear canal also cause tinnitus symptoms, as the operation of the eardrum is often impaired. Audiologists believe that objects directly touching the eardrum irritate the organ, causing the perception of tinnitus symptoms.

Common obstructions and blockages include excessive earwax, head congestion, loose ear hair and dirt or other foreign objects. Tinnitus caused by ear obstructions is relatively easy to cure as the removal of the blockage typically alleviates the symptoms.

Ototoxic medication

Many types of medications, both over-the-counter and prescribed, can also cause tinnitus. This type of tinnitus is often short-lived, occurring at the onset of taking the medicine. If the tinnitus symptoms are making life more difficult than the issue the medicine is treating, it is important to talk to the prescribing physician to discuss other alternatives to the tinnitus-inducing drug.

Ototoxic medications include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, certain antibiotics, some cancer medications, water pills and diuretics and quinine-based medications.

Talk to your audiologist

If you’re suffering from tinnitus, it’s crucial that you contact an audiologist and discuss your symptoms as soon as possible. Left untreated, tinnitus can impact not only your auditory health, but also your quality of life and social interactions. There are numerous options to help relieve tinnitus, contact our office today to discuss these treatments.