Tinnitus Overview

Tinnitus: if you have it, you know it.

Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. A common problem, tinnitus affects about 15 to 20 percent of people. Tinnitus isn't a condition itself — it's a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.

Although bothersome, tinnitus usually isn't a sign of something serious. Although it can worsen with age, for many people, tinnitus can improve with treatment. Treating an identified underlying cause sometimes helps. Other treatments reduce or mask the noise, making tinnitus less noticeable.

The Four Different Types of Tinnitus:

  1. Subjective tinnitus: The most common form of tinnitus. Subjective symptoms can only be heard by the affected individual are usually caused by exposure to excessive noise. This type of tinnitus can appear and disappear suddenly and may last 3–12 months at a time. In some severe cases, it may never stop.
  2. Neurological tinnitus: Usually caused by a disorder, such as Meniere’s disease, that primarily affects the brain’s auditory functions.
  3. Somatic tinnitus: Related to the sensory system. This form is caused, worsened, or otherwise related to the sensory system.
  4. Objective tinnitus: A rare form of tinnitus that may be caused by involuntary muscle contractions or vascular deformities. When the cause is treated, the tinnitus usually stops entirely. This is the only form of tinnitus that can be heard by an outside observer, and the only type that has the potential for a permanent fix.

Some Subtypes:

There are two different types of tinnitus, subjective and objective.
Musical tinnitus: Also called musical hallucinations or auditory imagery, this type is less common. Simple tones or layers of tones come together to recreate a melody or composition. Musical tinnitus tends to occur in people who have had hearing loss and tinnitus for some time, though people with normal hearing or increased sensitivity to sound can also have musical hallucinations.

Tinnitus can be managed through strategies that make it less bothersome. No single approach works for everyone, and there is no FDA-approved drug treatment, supplement, or herb proven to be any more effective than a placebo. Behavioral strategies and sound-generating devices often offer the best treatment results — this is partially why distracting the individual’s attention from these sounds can prevent a chronic manifestation.

Some of the most effective methods of tinnitus management are:
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Tinnitus retraining therapy
  • Masking
  • Biofeedback

There are countless treatment options, but they vary in effectiveness depending upon the type of tinnitus. More than 50 percent of those who experience tinnitus have an inner-ear hearing impairment, meaning that a connection between tinnitus and hearing loss is likely. Though wearing hearing aids helps ease tinnitus (they amplify the sounds outside, making the “inside” sounds less frequent), they are not the only method: careful diagnosis by a professional with years of experience creating solutions for tinnitus sufferers is essential.

Treating tinnitus


While there is not currently a cure for tinnitus, there are many strategies that have had successful results. However, research to find an effective treatment is continuing.

If an underlying cause of your tinnitus can be found, effectively treating it may help improve your tinnitus – for example, removing a build-up of earwax might help.

If a specific cause can't be found, treatment will focus on helping you manage the condition on a daily basis. This may involve:

Sound Therapy

Listening to neutral sounds to distract you from the sound of tinnitus

Counseling

Therapy that aims to educate you about tinnitus and help you learn to cope with it more effectively

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

Therapy that aims to help change the way you think about your tinnitus so it becomes less noticeable

Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)

Therapy that aims to help retrain the way your brain responds to tinnitus so you start to tune the sound out and become less aware of it