Ring, ring . . . Hello? Hi, it’s me – tinnitus!

by Martin Jurek

Have you ever left a concert with a buzzing sensation ringing in your head?

Many of us experience some form of ringing in the ears occasionally, particularly after exposure to loud noises. Usually, the effect wears off quickly and painlessly. For some people, however, this ringing occurs often, without noticeable provocation and for prolonged periods – and it can be incredibly irritating.

Tinnitus, from the Latin word for ringing, is the term used for the sound a person hears when no external sound is in fact present. This phantom noise can be constant or fluctuating, mild or severe and may vary from a low roar to a high-pitched whistle. Depending on the person, it can also take the form of buzzing, gurgling, chirping or even music or other strange sounds.

Tinnitus is a condition rather than a disease, and its causes are numerous and varied. Excessive noise exposure, hearing loss, stress, lack of sleep, heavy smoking, use of certain medications, too much caffeine, too much salt and head injuries are some of the more common sources. Tinnitus itself can cause a number of secondary symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, anxiety, stress, inability to concentrate and insomnia. Unfortunately, these symptoms can often stimulate the tinnitus even more, leading to a vicious cycle.

An estimated 90 per cent of people with diminished hearing experience tinnitus, and I’ve seen many clients about this issue. Even mild hearing loss, from which many people don’t know they suffer, can cause tinnitus. If you’re experiencing ringing or other “internal” noises, a hearing test with a trained professional is a good place to start. He or she will have the experience and knowledge to help assess your particular condition and will offer advice on how to gain partial or complete relief from this frustrating condition.