Many people come into the clinic seeking relief from what they think might be “tinnitus,” even if they don’t really know what tinnitus is. In fact, the question “what is tinnitus?” is a common conversation starter in the world of audiology.
Is the ringing in my ears tinnitus?
The simplest answer is that tinnitus is the technical term for an experience known as “ringing in the ears”—something many people tend to be familiar with as a point of reference.
Tinnitus, however, is much more than the relatively brief ear-ringing you might experience after sitting in the stands at a loud and raucous sporting event or a highly-amplified concert full of screaming fans. It is a situation in which one actually seems to hear “phantom” sounds on a consistent basis. To understand what that means, we need to step back and look at how we hear in the first place.
How hearing works
- Soundwaves enter the ear canal, where they vibrate the eardrum
- The eardrum, in turn, sets a series of small bones in motion
- The last of those small bones vibrate against an inner-ear organ called the cochlea
- Inside the cochlea, small hair cells translate vibrations into electrical impulses
- Those electrical impulses travel along the auditory nerve to the brain
- Inside the brain, those impulses are recognized as sound
What might be causing tinnitus?
Tinnitus occurs when the information that eventually reaches the brain has been somehow damaged or corrupted. How is this sound information damaged? The causes include physical trauma, noise exposure, and the aging process, among others.
Are the sounds of tinnitus real?
In those instances, the brain actually begins to register sound that isn’t really there. The sounds of tinnitus can include (but aren’t limited to) ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring, buzzing or even clicking—and they can vary in both pitch and intensity.
What is pulsatile tinnitus?
There is another type of tinnitus known as “pulsatile tinnitus” in which the perceived sound is the result not of damaged sound impulses, but rather the pressure of blood flow in the inner ear; it essentially mirrors the individual’s pulse rate.
What should I do if I think I’m suffering from tinnitus?
In seeking tinnitus relief, it is important to note that tinnitus is always an indication of something that has prevented accurate information from reaching the brain. It’s a symptom, not a condition in and of itself. It can be temporary or it can linger permanently.
If you suspect tinnitus in yourself or a loved one, the best course of action is a thorough hearing evaluation by certified hearing healthcare professionals.