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Is Tinnitus a Sign of Hearing Loss, or a Different Condition?

a hand cupped to the ear of a brown haired woman

Tinnitus is a condition that affects between 15 and 20 percent of people, yet so many of us know so little about it! While this is a rather obscure condition, it’s good to know the basics of it, as well as its potential causes. This will allow you to seek help from an audiologist and get some answers in regard to the causes of your tinnitus should you ever experience it.

What is tinnitus?

Put simply, tinnitus is the perception of a noise that isn’t actually being made. This noise will often take the form of a ringing noise, a humming noise, a whooshing noise, a hissing noise, a clicking noise, a buzzing noise or a roaring noise – though it is possible to hear other noises associated with tinnitus.

These noises are often referred to as phantom noises. The type of noises you can hear fall into one of two categories – subjective tinnitus or objective tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is a form of tinnitus that you and only you can hear. This is the most common form of tinnitus. Objective tinnitus is a form of tinnitus that the audiologist can hear when carrying out an examination.

It’s important to note that tinnitus isn’t actually a condition itself. Instead, it is often a symptom resulting from another condition. But what conditions can cause tinnitus? Is it a sign of hearing loss? Or could it be indicative of something else?

Common causes of tinnitus

Tinnitus can be caused by a range of factors and conditions. So, it’s important to note that while tinnitus may be a sign of hearing loss, it can be attributed to a host of other factors too. If you are experiencing tinnitus, you can book an appointment with a qualified and experienced audiologist to determine the actual cause of your individual condition. For the time being, we’ll highlight some of the most common causes of tinnitus below.

Age related hearing loss

Age related hearing loss does tend to be the most common cause of tinnitus. Most people will experience changes in their hearing as years pass by, with hearing deteriorating over time due to damage being caused to the sensory cells inside your ear. Starting around the age of 60, you may begin to experience hearing loss that causes tinnitus. This specific type of hearing loss is called presbycusis.

Exposure to loud noises

Many people will also experience hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises, which also damage the sensory cell inside your ears. This type of hearing loss can also cause tinnitus. Most people will experience tinnitus caused by short term exposure to loud sounds, but this usually goes away pretty quickly.

Earwax

A buildup of earwax blocking your ear is another common cause of tinnitus. Earwax usually protects your ear canal by blocking dirt and slowing the growth of bacteria. This washes away naturally. However, if your body produces too much earwax, hearing loss can occur and you may experience tinnitus as a result.

Ear bone changes

A condition called otosclerosis may run in your family. This condition can cause bones in your middle ear to stiffen, resulting in changes to your hearing and potentially causing tinnitus.

Less common causes of tinnitus

The above list isn’t comprehensive. It’s just the more common causes of tinnitus. There are fewer common causes of the condition too! Some other less common causes of tinnitus include the following conditions:

  • Meniere’s disease: Tinnitus may be an early warning sign of Meniere’s disease. This is an inner ear disorder caused by abnormal pressure in your inner ear.
  • Head or neck injuries: Trauma to the head or neck can impact the inner ear, resulting in damage that can cause tinnitus.
  • Temporomandibular joints (TMJ) disorders: TMJ lie each side of your jawbone where the jawbone meets the skull. Issues with these joints can result in tinnitus.
  • Muscle spasms: Muscle spasms in the inner ear can also cause tinnitus. Other symptoms include hearing loss and a feeling of tightness inside your ear.

As you can see, there are many potential causes of tinnitus. This isn't even a completely comprehensive list! There are other potential causes too! If you’d like to learn more about this or are seeking further help with tinnitus, Contact Audiology Associates today at 707-827-1630!