Tinnitus is thought to affect 50 million Americans. It usually occurs after the age of 50 years, but children and adolescents can experience it, too. Common causes are excessive or cumulative noise exposure, head and neck injuries, and ear infections. It can occasionally indicate a serious underlying medical condition.
There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are ways of managing it. Most people with chronic tinnitus adjust to the ringing over time, but 1 in 5 will find it disturbing or debilitating. For some, it can lead to insomnia, difficulty with concentration, poor work or school performance, irritability, anxiety, and depression.
Tinnitus happens when we consciously hear a sound that does not come from any source outside the body. It is not a disease, but a symptom of an underlying problem. The noise is usually subjective, meaning that only the person who has tinnitus can hear it. The most common form is a steady, high-pitched ringing. This can be annoying, but it does not usually indicate a serious condition. In fewer than 1 percent of cases, it may be objective. This means that other people can hear the noise. This type of noise may be caused by cardiovascular or musculoskeletal movements in the person’s body. This can be a sign of a medical emergency.
Tinnitus is a non-auditory, internal sound that can be intermittent or continuous, in one or both ears, and either low- or high-pitched. The varying sounds have been described as whistling, chirping, clicking, screeching, hissing, static, roaring, buzzing, pulsing, whooshing, or musical. The volume of the sound can fluctuate. It is often most noticeable at night or during periods of quiet. There may be some hearing loss.