Tinnitus (TIN-i-tus) is noise or ringing in the ears, according to the Mayo Clinic web site. It’s a common problem that affects about one in five people, so if you’re afflicted know that you’re far from alone. Tinnitus isn't a condition itself â€” it's a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Tinnitus can be annoying but usually isn't a sign of something serious, says Mayo Clinic. Although it can worsen with age, it can also be improved with treatment. Treating an identified underlying cause sometimes helps. Other treatments reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.
Tinnitus symptoms include these types of phantom noises in your ears:
When to see a doctorIf you have tinnitus that bothers you, the Mayo Clinic advises you to see your doctor.
- Make an appointment to see your doctor if you develop tinnitus after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and your tinnitus doesn't improve within a week.
- See your doctor as soon as possible if you have tinnitus that occurs suddenly or without an apparent cause, or if you have hearing loss or dizziness with the tinnitus. A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus. In many cases, an exact cause is never found.
Common causes of tinnitusIn many people, tinnitus is caused by one of these conditions:
- Age-related hearing loss. For many people, hearing worsens with age, usually starting around age 60. Hearing loss can cause tinnitus.
- Exposure to loud noise. Loud noises, such as those from heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, are common sources of noise-related hearing loss. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure, such as attending a loud concert, usually goes away; long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.
- Earwax blockage. Earwax protects your ear canal by trapping dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. When too much earwax accumulates, it becomes too hard to wash away naturally-causing hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum, which can lead to tinnitus.
- Ear bone changes. Stiffening of the bones in your middle ear (otosclerosis) may affect your hearing and cause tinnitus. This condition, caused by abnormal bone growth, runs in families.
Use hearing protection: Over time, exposure to loud noise can damage the nerves in the ears, causing hearing loss and tinnitus. If you use chain saws, are a musician, work in an industry that uses loud machinery or use firearms (especially pistols or shotguns), always wear over-the-ear hearing protection, says the Mayo Clinic.