According to the American Tinnitus Association, nearly 50 million Americans experience tinnitus. Pronounced as “Tinn/EYE’/tus” or “TINN’/eh/tus, the symptom is a sensation experienced by people often as a result of some type of damage to the ears such as exposure to excessive noise. It may also be the result of certain medications, or musculoskeletal issues such as temporomandibular (TMJ) joint or neck problems. The ears and the brain are connected via intricate two-way innervation pathways in the auditory nerve. If a disease process or injury interrupts the regular communication between the brain and the ear, the brain may interpret the change in communication and interpret it as sound, creating tinnitus. This is called subjective tinnitus, meaning that the perception of sound is internal and experienced only by the individual. Less common is objective tinnitus that can actually be heard by others. Objective tinnitus typically is generated in the inner-ear cochlea. Objective tinnitus is an anomaly, but not typically a sign of a serious medical problem. Rarely, tinnitus is a sign of a serious neurological problem affecting the auditory nerve. That is why, especially with unilateral tinnitus, an evaluation by a medical specialist such as an otologist is recommended before other treatments are explored.
Some individuals are notably bothered by tinnitus and experience stress as a result, which can exacerbate the situation. When no specific treatable disease or medical intervention is identified, otologists often choose referrals for a variety of treatments including cognitive-behavioral therapy. Fortunately, the most common type of effective treatment is the use of hearing aids when a hearing loss is present, or sound therapy that masks or distracts the patient from their own internally generated sound. These treatments are not a cure for the problem but offer mitigation and successful relief for many tinnitus sufferers. There is no medically and scientifically validated cure for tinnitus, but the treatment options available are helpful for many individuals who perceive the symptom as a burden and suffer as a result.
In summary, tinnitus is a common symptom with a broad array of causative factors. It typically is not a sign of a serious health problem but should be medically evaluated. For many who suffer annoyance or anxiety as a result of the symptom, help for strategies to reduce the effects is available.
Journey of Sound to the Brain (NIH): https://youtu.be/eQEaiZ2j9oc