Tinnitus FAQs

Over the last 40 years, I’ve heard every tinnitus related question there is. Below are the most frequently asked of them all.

What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the medical term for sounds you hear in your head, that no one else can. A person with tinnitus will often hear a whistling, humming, buzzing, whooshing, clicking or ringing in their ears, even when there is nothing in the area that is emitting that particular sound. It may be intermittent or last only a short time or never seem to stop.

The sound you hear is actually being generated by the part of your ear known as the cochlea. It’s a very complicated organ with sensory hairs, internal fluid and nerve receptors, that when damaged (or as it naturally degrades as you get older), can cause it to send incorrect input into your brain.

In layman’s terms, because it’s no longer working as well as it used to, it thinks there’s a ringing sound in the area and tells your brain to generate that sound in your head.

What Does Tinnitus Sound Like?
Tinnitus can come in the form of ringing, buzzing, whooshing, hissing, clicking, low roar, or even a high pitched squeal or whine.

How long does tinnitus last?
Tinnitus can come and go or be continuous. Some people only hear the ringing or buzzing sound once in a while and it may only last for a couple of minutes, while others hear it constantly to the point where it’s driving them crazy.

Can Others Hear The Ringing?
99% of the time, only you can hear the ringing, buzzing or whooshing sounds in your ears. This form of tinnitus is known as Subjective Tinnitus. However, if the noises you hear involve a clicking or crackling sound, then there is a 1% chance that others can indeed hear the same sounds you do. This is known as Objective Tinnitus and is usually caused by either muscle spasms from one of the two tiny muscles in your ear or by abnormalities in blood vessels around the outside of the ear.

What Causes Tinnitus?
Some of the most common causes of tinnitus include a loud work environment, smoking, side-effects form certain medications, natural aging, certain rare diseases and vascular issues. Learn more on our causes of tinnitus page.

Does tinnitus affect both ears or just one?
Tinnitus can occur in either your left or right ear or both ears.

How Common Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is incredibly common. It affects 17% of the world population and over 50 million people alone in the United States. Of the 50 million Americans that suffer from tinnitus, around 40 million have a less sever form that is best described as annoying and troubling, while the other 10 million have a more debilitating form of tinnitus that makes living a normal day-to-day life nearly impossible. Both forms of tinnitus have shown to react well to the latest tinnitus treatments on the market.

What Is Persistent Tinnitus?
Persistent tinnitus is a form of tinnitus that lasts for more than 6 months in a row. It’s also more commonly known as chronic tinnitus.

What Type Of Doctor Treats Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is most often treated by an audiologist or an Ears, Nose and Throat specialist. These ENTs can be otolaryngologists, otologists or neurotologists.

What is Hyperacusis?
Hyperacusis is the medical term for a decreased tolerance of sound and occurs in around 40% of all tinnitus cases. However, it is possible to have hyperacusis without tinnitus. While there are over the counter treatments that have proven to help, in some cases, Tinnitus Retraining Therapy, may be necessary to partially or totally restore the normal levels of sound sensitivity.

What’s the Difference Between Primary and Secondary Tinnitus?
Primary tinnitus is the most common form of tinnitus (affecting 95% of patients) in which no cause can be identified aside from ringing in your ears or a hearing loss. Secondary tinnitus is the less common form of tinnitus (affecting only 5% of patients), where a specific underlying cause (such as an ear wax blockage) is the culprit. If your tinnitus is being caused by a specific underlying cause, your ENT or audiologist will be able to help you.

What’s the Difference Between Subjective Tinnitus and Objective Tinnitus?
Subjective Tinnitus is the form of tinnitus in which only the patient can hear the ringing or whooshing sounds in his or her ears. It is by far the most common form of tinnitus, affecting close to 99% of patients. Objective Tinnitus, on the other hand, is the form of tinnitus in which both the patient and the doctor can hear the sound in their ears. While very rare, objective tinnitus can occur when one of the two tiny muscles in your ear start spasming or by abnormalities in blood vessels around the outside of your ear.

What is Pulsatile Tinnitus?
Pulsatile tinnitus is a form of objective tinnitus in which the noises you hear sound like a heartbeat or pulse. That heartbeat sound is often being generated by a change in blood flow in the area around your ear.

What is an Acoustic Neuroma?
An acoustic neuroma (AKA vestibular schwannoma) is an extremely rare and slow growing, benign tumor that develops from the hearing and balance nerves that supply the inner ear. Over time, the pressure from the growing acoustic neuroma tumor can cause tinnitus, single-sided hearing loss, vertigo and a strange feeling of fullness in your ear.

What is a Vestibular Schwannoma?
A vestibular schwannoma is a slow growing, benign tumor that is also known as an acoustic neuroma. The tumor grows from the hearing and balance nerves that supply the inner ear, and over time, start to put pressure on the nerve causing a variety of symptoms.

What is Meniere’s Disease?
Meniere’s disease is a disorder of the inner ear that causes you to feel as if you’re spinning uncontrollably. Along with this feeling of vertigo, is an annoying ringing sound in your ears, a fluctuating hearing loss that unfortunately almost always leads to a permanent hearing loss and sometimes even a feeling of pressure or fullness in your ear.

Does Lipoflavonoid Work?
While Lipo-Flavonoid does have a 22% efficacy rate, it pales in comparison to the 87% efficacy rate that Tinnitus Control has. This is due to the fact that Lipo-Flavonoid is just a multivitamin that helps promote inner ear health, while Tinnitus Control is a specially formulated over the counter medication that is engineered to suppress tinnitus symptoms.

Lipoflavonoid Plus vs Tinnitus Control

What is Otosclerosis?
Otosclerosis is the abnormal hardening of tissue in the ear that keeps the stapes (one of the bones in the middle ear) from being able to vibrate and send the sound on to the inner ear, resulting in a hearing loss. The most common symptoms of otosclerosis include hearing loss, tinnitus and vertigo. Treatment options include surgery.

Why Does My Tinnitus Get Louder At Night?
Contrary to popular belief, your tinnitus is not getting louder at night, it’s just that there is so much less ambient noise around you, when you’re trying to sleep, to mask the sounds your tinnitus is creating. In addition, when you’re going about your day to day life, your brain is constantly working to take in all that is around you and thus is so busy ensuring you drive in the right direction, remember where your car keys are, make it to that meeting on time, etc. that when it’s finally time to relax, there are no distractions keeping your mind busy, so all of a sudden it starts focusing on the ringing, buzzing, whistling or whooshing sounds your tinnitus is creating. By using a sound generator at night, you’ll be able to mask the sounds your tinnitus is causing and get some good sleep.

What is Tinnitus Habituation?
Tinnitus habituation is a neurological process used by doctors to help you gradually notice your tinnitus less an less over time. It’s not that your tinnitus goes away, but that you simply stop noticing it as much as you used to. It’s a retraining of your brain to tune out the ringing you hear in your ears, so you can get on with your life as usual.

What Medications Can Cause Tinnitus?
There are over 200 prescriptions and over the counter medications that can cause tinnitus or make your existing symptoms worse. Generally speaking, the higher the dosage of these medications, the worse your tinnitus will become. Depending on the medication dosage, your tinnitus might go away after removing it from your system.

If you have a tinnitus related question that you don’t see answered here, please email Dr. Gall and he’ll get back to you as soon as possible.