Have you heard the adage that posits if your ears are ringing, someone is talking about you? The medical research on that hypothesis has yet to gather ample evidence, but what we do know is a condition called tinnitus.

Tinnitus is a condition that involves noise (perceived and real) in the ears. The CDC approximates that 15% of the United States — more than 50 million people — experience tinnitus. It’s common enough that people should be reasonably educated on the basics.

What is it?

Calling it a noise in the ears is technically correct, but can be broken down into more specific gradients. Generally described as a ringing, humming, hissing, or buzzing, it can vary in intensity and frequency. Most people notice it during silence such as while trying to sleep. Some people don’t notice it much or grow accustomed to it, but for others, it can be increasingly stressful and oppressive.

There are two forms of tinnitus

      • Subjective: Of all the reported cases of tinnitus, 99% are subjective. It’s perceived noise without any noise actually being present. It’s heard only by the patient.
    • Objective: This is incredibly rare, but it’s audible noise caused by physical structures in or around the ear. While rare, there are cases that have been so loud the examining physician can hear.

Tinnitus evaluation and treatment

Because it’s a condition that will generally first be noticed by the patient, contacting an audiologist for a hearing evaluation is important. This way you can have the initial examination to rule out anything else that may be causing issues in the ear. Most cases of subjective tinnitus are caused by aging, hearing loss, loud noises, and drugs. While there’s no specific treatment for tinnitus, treating the accompanying symptoms helps most patients. Many patients find their tinnitus relieved after getting hearing aids. For sleeping, “white noise” machines can provide a distraction from tinnitus. Stimulants (caffeine, amphetamines, etc.) can worsen tinnitus, so avoiding them may help ease symptoms.

Every case of a hearing disorder is patient specific. If you’re finding yourself becoming increasingly concerned or annoyed with a perceived or actual hearing disorder, talk to your doctor. Perhaps a tinnitus evaluation will help identify the root of the problem. Either way, keeping sound mind and body will make you feel a little more at peace with this noisy world.