Who is most affected by tinnitus?

Tinnitus — sometimes called ringing in the ears — is when you perceive sound even though there's no actual external source making that sound. You can stop tinnitus by treating the underlying cause, but there is no quick guaranteed method of curing tinnitus.
Tinnitus — sometimes called ringing in the ears — is when you perceive sound even though there's no actual external source making that sound. You can stop tinnitus by treating the underlying cause, but there is no quick guaranteed method of curing tinnitus.

Tinnitus — sometimes called ringing in the ears — is when you perceive sound even though there's no actual external source making that sound. The sounds you may hear when you have tinnitus include ringing, buzzing, pulsating whooshing, humming, and hissing. It can affect one or both of your ears, and you may develop it slowly over time or all of a sudden.

Tinnitus can be very irritating, considerably worsening the quality of life. As a result, you may want to seek immediate relief. Though it doesn't show immediate effect, the treatment for tinnitus depends on what's causing it — it may include hearing aids, medications, and behavioral therapies.

Read on to understand what is the main cause of tinnitus and how it can be treated.

About 15% of the world's population has tinnitus. In the United States, as many as 50 million people have chronic tinnitus. Men are more likely to get tinnitus than women.

What is the main cause of tinnitus? 

You may get tinnitus because of several reasons, which may be or may not be age-related. The main causes of tinnitus can be broadly divided into: 

  • Age-related hearing loss — This is the leading cause of tinnitus. As you age, your hearing gets worse —  it can worsen further if you're exposed to loud noises regularly for a long time. 
  • Muscle or bone-related hearing loss — Tinnitus may also result from spasms in the very small inner ear muscles or from whiplash. Dysfunction of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) leads to inflammation in the jaw bone and its tendons, which can also result in tinnitus. 
  • Inner ear disorders — Hardening of the tiny bones of the ear or a problem with the tube that connects your ear to your throat can result in ringing in your ears.
  • Blood vessel abnormalities — High blood pressure and hardening of the arteries are common causes of tinnitus. Blood vessel malformation during fetal development can also result in tinnitus later in life. 
  • Medications — Many common over-the-counter medications including aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, water pills (diuretics), antimalarial drugs, and antidepressants can contribute to tinnitus. 
  • Tumors and cancer treatmentsChemotherapy, radiation therapy on the head and neck, and the formation of small benign tumors on the ear nerve, called acoustic neuromas, can result in hearing loss and tinnitus.  
  • Neurologic diseases — Several neurologic diseases can affect the nerves and areas of the brain that transmit and process hearing. These diseases include Meniere's disease, multiple sclerosis, stroke, and Chiari malformation.

What is the most effective treatment for tinnitus?

In many cases, tinnitus can't be cured easily or completely. That's why most treatments for tinnitus are focused on alleviating symptoms and improving the quality of life. Your doctor will decide on what treatment to administer based on the cause of your tinnitus. 

Treatment for tinnitus due to hearing loss

It's important for people with age-related hearing loss to work closely with their audiologist to find the best hearing aids for their individual situation — the right set of hearing aids can drastically improve tinnitus symptoms. Hearing aids can also show great benefits in people with hearing loss caused by medications, repeated inner ear infections, or tumors. In some extreme situations, a doctor may recommend cochlear implants.

Treatment for tinnitus due to medications

If a medication is causing tinnitus, discontinuing it may help you improve your symptoms. This may also help you prevent progression to severe hearing loss — mainly because tinnitus is a sign of early hearing loss. You'll need to consult your doctor before you stop taking any medication — sudden discontinuation can result in dangerous side effects. 

Treatment for tinnitus due to abnormal blood vessels

Abnormal blood vessel-related tinnitus usually feels like pulses inside your ear. For this kind of tinnitus, the treatment depends on severity. If your symptoms aren't too strong and don't affect your quality of life much, your doctor may recommend behavioral therapy. But, in severe cases, surgery may be needed. 

Medications for tinnitus treatment 

There's no simple one-size-fits-all medication for tinnitus, but some of these medications have been found to have good results in people with tinnitus:

Behavioral therapy for tinnitus

Behavioral therapies are used in combination with other therapies to treat people with tinnitus. These behavioral therapies include: 

  • Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) — It trains you to get used to the noise.
  • Biofeedback — It's a relaxation technique that trains you to control your reactions to tinnitus.  
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) — It helps you develop coping strategies and distraction techniques and feel relaxed. 

Does tinnitus ever go away? 

There's no quick guaranteed method of curing tinnitus. It's important that you visit your doctor and get an accurate diagnosis of what is causing tinnitus. This way you and your doctor will be able to discuss the best treatment options for you as well as their risks and benefits. Typically, they'll recommend a mixed treatment approach combining some of the above treatment methods.  

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Medically Reviewed on 5/5/2022
References
SOURCES:

American Journal of Medicine: "Prevalence and Characteristics of Tinnitus among US Adults."

American Journal of Otolaryngology and Head and Neck Surgery: "Neurophysiological approach to tinnitus patients."

Cleveland Clinic: "Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorders."

JAMA Otolaryngology: "Prevalence, severity, exposures, and treatment patterns of Tinnitus in the United States."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Chiari Malformation Type I."

Noise & Health: "Characterization of Tinnitus in Different Age Groups: A Retrospective Review."

Otolaryngologic Clinics of North America: "Cochlear implantation for tinnitus suppression."

UpToDate: "Treatment of tinnitus."