Ringing, chirping, hissing, buzzing, or even ocean waves – however you experience tinnitus, it can be annoying. Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, but hearing loss and tinnitus are related. In some cases, hearing loss even gives rise to tinnitus.
Hearing Loss and Tinnitus
What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the physical experience of hearing a ringing or buzzing when there is no actual noise present in reality. It is not a disease, but a symptom, and it can be temporary or permanent. Tinnitus is a sign that something is off-balance in the auditory system. This includes the ear and the nerve that connects it to the brain, as well as the parts of the brain that process sound.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus can be caused by many things, but it is often related to damage of the small hairs in the inner ear, which control the auditory signals sent to your brain. These signals determine how you hear sound, and they are often damaged by exposure to loud noises. Ongoing exposure to loud noises at a job or through headphone use can permanently or temporarily damage your hearing and cause tinnitus. Even a one-time exposure to a loud noise can affect your hearing. Therefore, we encourage you to avoid subjecting your ears to loud concerts, sporting events, and gunshots.
Other causes of tinnitus include an ear infection, sinus infection, or extra buildup of earwax. Even certain medicines can trigger tinnitus, like aspirin, ibuprofen, antibiotics, antidepressants, and cancer drugs. In most cases, tinnitus will go away when you stop taking the triggering medication. (Note: Always consult your doctor before going off a prescribed medication.) Tinnitus can also be a side effect of Ménière’s disease, which is a disorder that affects the inner ear. This disease has many side effects including vertigo, fluctuating hearing loss, a sense of pressure in the ear, tinnitus, and eventually permanent hearing loss. This disease usually only affects one ear.
Finally, tinnitus can sometimes be a sign of larger health issues, including thyroid abnormalities, heart disease, brain tumors, or hormonal changes in women (source). To learn the cause of your tinnitus, consult an audiologist.
A Warning Sign of Hearing Loss
Tinnitus can be one of the first signs of age-related hearing loss, which is also known as presbycusis. As we mentioned above, tinnitus often occurs due to damage to the hair cells in the inner ear. In addition to causing tinnitus, this damage can cause hearing loss. Sometimes people notice a symptom of hearing loss, tinnitus, before realizing they suffer from presbycusis.
Hearing Loss May Cause Tinnitus
Medical research suggests that in some cases, hearing loss causes tinnitus (source). Due to the lack of audiological input from the ear to the brain, the nerves between the inner ear and the brain may begin to send signals spontaneously. This sound is then interpreted by the brain as tinnitus.
In these situations, an audiologist may recommend a hearing aid to treat both the hearing loss and the tinnitus. How does this work? The amplified sound may hide the tinnitus, or the increase audiological activity may reduce the spontaneous signals in the hearing nerves.
Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss, but it could be the first sign of impending hearing loss or a greater health issue. Although most people with tinnitus also have a form of hearing loss, not everyone with hearing loss experiences tinnitus. To learn more about your unique situation, contact an audiologist who has experience with hearing loss and tinnitus.
If you live near Limon, Pueblo or Colorado Springs, Colorado, schedule consultation with Apex Audiology today. Dr. William F. Herholtz will assess your condition and make recommendations to help you cope with tinnitus. To get started, please call us at 719-247-9000 or schedule an appointment online. We look forward to connecting with you!