Last updated: March 21, 2019

What Does Tinnitus Mean?

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is the hearing ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sounds in the ears that do not correspond with any external stimulus. The noise can be intermittent or continuous, soft or loud, low pitched or high pitched and appear in one or both ears. Usually, it becomes worse when background noise is low, which makes patients particularly aware of it at night when falling asleep. In some cases, the sound is synchronized with the heart rate of the person, a condition known as pulsatile tinnitus.

Safeopedia Explains Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a common condition, affecting an estimated 50 million adults in the U.S. There are several causes of tinnitus, including ear infections, disease of the heart or blood vessels, Ménière's disease, brain tumors, stress, exposure to certain medications, and a previous head injury. One of the most common causes, however, is prolonged occupational exposure to loud noises, which is a common risk in the construction, manufacturing, and entertainment industries. Up to 90% of people with tinnitus have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.

With adequate treatment, tinnitus can improve or become less noticeable. Without removing the cause, however, the sound can worsen with age and lead to gradual hearing loss. While considered a mild annoyance, it may, in some people, cause depression, anxiety, or interference with sleep and concentration.


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