We’ve all experienced it after a loud concert or fireworks show—that unbroken, high-pitched sound filling our ears. Although it’s temporary in these cases, many people experience chronic ringing in their ears. This condition is called tinnitus, and it affects about one in five people. It’s seldom a serious health concern, but it can certainly be an inconvenience. Let’s take a look at the symptoms, causes, and treatments of this condition.
The main symptom is an almost imaginary ringing, buzzing, or clicking sound. Ringing may persist as a continuous, unbroken background noise, or it may intermittently come and go. The main side effects are psychological, as the irritability of tinnitus can cause stress, anxiety, and even clinical depression.
Persistent ringing, buzzing, or clicking in the ears is an interesting phenomenon. Your ears contain a precise architecture of nerves and cells that handle incoming sound waves. This system arranges the frequencies of sound into a tidy package, and sends it to your brain. Tinnitus occurs when this system malfunctions. A damaged part can cause electrical impulses to be sent to the brain, creating a steady ringing. This damage can be caused by aging, exposure to loud noise, head or neck injuries, or abnormal pressure changes in the ear.
Tinnitus treatment is a difficult task. Luckily, the condition rarely affects patients to an extreme degree. Only 1-2% of people report this condition as a significant problem. Though there are no medications, cognitive behavioral therapy helps many patients acclimate to the condition and relieve stress. Most people get used to the ringing or buzzing over time.
If tinnitus interferes with your daily life, visit an audiologist. Though the problem is usually manageable, treatments can help you adapt.