Tinnitus is a symptom rather than a standalone condition, and it can manifest in various forms. People who experience tinnitus hear sounds in their ears that don’t have an external source. While the vast majority of people with tinnitus experience a low impact from it, some people do experience negative emotions which they attribute to tinnitus. These sounds can range from a low hum to a high-pitched screech, and their underlying causes can differ significantly. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of tinnitus, the sounds associated with each, and some of the most common causes.
Subjective vs. Objective Tinnitus
Before diving into the types of sounds and causes, it’s essential to differentiate between the two main varieties of tinnitus. The two different forms of tinnitus are:
• Subjective Tinnitus: This is the most common form, where only the person experiencing it can hear the sound. Most tinnitus cases fall under this category.
• Objective Tinnitus: Objective tinnitus is the less common of the two categories of tinnitus This form of tinnitus can be heard by an external observer, such as a doctor conducting an examination. Objective tinnitus is often caused by vascular abnormalities or muscle contractions.
Types of Tinnitus Sounds
The types of sounds heard by those suffering from tinnitus can vary wildly, so it’s important to learn about the different types to adequately assess whether or not you’re experiencing this condition. The various types of ringing in the ears include:
Constant ringing is one of the most reported classification of tinnitus sounds. The sound is often described as a high-pitched whine or a persistent “eeee” noise.
In these kinds of tinnitus experiences, the sound pulses in sync with the person’s heartbeat. Pulsatile tinnitus is often more rhythmic than other types and can be caused by blood flow abnormalities.
Any ‘tinnitus’ that has form or structure, such as hearing people talk or hearing music, is classed as an auditory hallucination. This can sometimes be caused by neurological conditions and should be checked by a doctor.
White noise tinnitus manifests as a constant static or hissing sound. It is often compared to the sound produced by a TV or radio tuned to an empty channel.
Clicking or Typewriter Tinnitus
Some people experience a sound similar to a typewriter or clicking. The noise often occurs in bursts and may be sporadic. In some cases, this type is related to muscle contractions in the ear or throat area, and can sometimes be heard by other people. This type of tinnitus should be checked by an audiologist or doctor.
Common Causes of Tinnitus
As tinnitus is more of a symptom than a condition in itself, there are many different causes. Below are a few of the most common causes of tinnitus:
Age-related hearing loss is one of the most common causes of tinnitus. As the hair cells in the cochlea (a part of the inner ear) become damaged due to age or loud noise exposure, the likelihood of experiencing tinnitus increases.
Ear Infections or Blockages
Wax buildup or ear infections can also lead to temporary forms of tinnitus. Once the underlying issue is addressed, the tinnitus often subsides.
Some medications, especially at high doses, are ototoxic (damaging to the ear) and can cause temporary or permanent tinnitus. Aspirin, certain antibiotics, and diuretics are among the drugs that can induce this condition. You should always consult your doctor if you are considering changing your medications.
Stress and Anxiety
Psychological factors can exacerbate tinnitus or even trigger its onset. Stress and anxiety are known to contribute to the severity and persistence of the symptoms.
Vascular conditions can cause tinnitus which is often pulsatile. Pulsatile tinnitus is rhythmic and in time with your heart beat. Pulsatile tinnitus should always be checked out by a doctor.
Tinnitus Treatment and Management
While there is no universal cure for tinnitus, treatment options aim to manage symptoms and improve quality of life. These include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), sound therapy, and in some cases, medication to manage underlying conditions. The most important aspect of treatment and management of tinnitus is speaking to a professional who can guide you through the diagnostic pathway. They will also be able to identify effective treatment and management plans for your condition, helping you enjoy a better quality life.
Don’t Let Tinnitus Impact Your Life
Tinnitus is a multifaceted symptom that varies widely in sound and underlying cause. Diverse tinnitus manifestations make tinnitus more difficult to understand, but thanks to a robust classification of tinnitus conditions it’s becoming easier to identify. Proper diagnosis is key to effective management, so consult a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and personalised treatment plan.