For a better understanding

Symptoms & Causes

Although it’s a widespread condition, the symptoms and causes of tinnitus vary greatly among individuals. In the past few decades, the understanding has grown exponentially, and while there is still much to uncover, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge.

Symptoms of Tinnitus

The primary symptom of tinnitus is the perception of sound when no actual external noise is present. This sound is often described in various ways, ranging from a ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking, or hissing, to more complex sounds like music or human voices.

The intensity, pitch, and volume of the perceived sound can vary and may be constant or intermittent. Some people may notice it more at night when environmental sounds are lower. It’s also important to note that tinnitus can be present in one or both ears.

Several secondary symptoms often accompany tinnitus, impacting individuals’ quality of life.
These include:

1. Sleep disturbances

Sleep disturbances are common among people suffering from tinnitus. Falling asleep can become challenging because of that sound that feels like it’s coming from inside the ear. It’s similar to trying to sleep in a noisy room, but the noise is internal, making it inescapable. This can lead to significant fatigue as a result of not getting enough quality sleep. A cycle can develop where lack of sleep potentially worsens tinnitus symptoms. This, in turn, can make sleep even more challenging. However, this sleep disruption varies greatly among individuals with tinnitus, and not everyone experiences it – many find a way to cope with such situations.

Insomnia and noise pollution

2. Cognitive effects

Individuals with tinnitus often report difficulty concentrating or focusing on tasks, leading to decreased work performance and general productivity. The constant noise isn’t just irritating – it’s a concentration thief, making focus a real battle and clear thinking very hard.

Cognitive effect

3. Emotional distress

Persistent tinnitus can lead to feelings of frustration, stress, anxiety, and depression. The continuous noise can feel invasive and create a sense of helplessness or loss of control. This ongoing stress can pave the way to more severe mental health issues. The inability to find quiet and peace within one’s own mind can feel isolating, potentially leading to feelings of hopelessness and despair. Individuals may find themselves altering their social or professional behaviors to cope with the condition. They might even avoid situations where their tinnitus is more noticeable, leading to social withdrawal, or they could struggle with work due to difficulty concentrating.

4. Hearing difficulties

Despite the presence of extra noise, many people with tinnitus experience a degree of hearing loss. This hearing loss often stems from the same root causes that trigger tinnitus. For example, damage to the auditory system – whether due to exposure to loud noises or age-related wear and tear—can not only cause tinnitus but also impair the ability to hear other sounds. Essentially, it’s as if the ‘noise’ of tinnitus is drowning out or masking the ‘signal’ of external sounds. It’s like trying to listen to a conversation in a room while a loud radio is playing—it’s not that the conversation isn’t loud enough, but rather the radio noise interferes with the ability to distinguish the spoken words.

5. Sensitivity to sound

Some individuals develop an enhanced sensitivity to specific frequencies and volumes of sound. This isn’t just about hearing more noise, but rather, it’s about regular, everyday sounds seeming louder and more intrusive than they would to someone with typical hearing. Imagine walking into a café and the clatter of dishes, the murmur of conversations, even the hiss of the espresso machine, all seem incredibly loud and overwhelming. Sounds that most people can easily tune out become hard to ignore and may even cause discomfort or distress. This can make everyday environments, from bustling streets to lively social gatherings, daunting and potentially uncomfortable places to be.

Sound sensitivity

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is usually a symptom rather than a disease. The potential causes can be broken down into a few main categories: auditory system damage, side effects of some medications, and other health conditions.

1. Auditory System Damage

Tinnitus is most frequently associated with damage to the auditory system. This damage can occur in any part of the system, from the outer ear to the auditory nerve, which connects the ear to the brain. Exposure to loud noises, whether from a single event or cumulative over time, can lead to noise-induced hearing loss, a common cause of tinnitus. Aging can also cause wear and tear on the inner ear, resulting in age-related hearing loss and subsequently, tinnitus.

2. Side effect of some medications

Tinnitus can be a side effect of certain medications. These include some antibiotics, cancer medications, diuretics, quinine medications used for malaria or other health conditions, and certain antidepressants. Aspirin in high doses can also cause tinnitus.


3. Other Health Conditions

Tinnitus can be triggered or worsened by some specific health conditions. For example, an issue with the inner ear that’s responsible for hearing and balance (also known as Ménière disease) can be a reason. Trauma to the head or neck can also be a cause, when the nerves or brain areas dealing with sound are disrupted. Disrupted joints that connect the jawbone to your skull (known as TMJ disorders) can also lead to tinnitus.
Problems with the heart and blood vessels can play a part too. Conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, or hardened and narrowed arteries can impact blood circulation, including to the ears. This can disrupt the normal function of the auditory system, leading to tinnitus.

Knowledge is key

Understanding the causes and symptoms of tinnitus is a critical step towards finding effective treatments and interventions. While there is often no cure, management strategies can significantly improve the quality of life. It’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional or audiologist if you suspect you might have tinnitus. – Possible causes can be identified, and based on this the best treatment plan can be created.