The Women's Journal

Tinnitus: That Ringing In Your Ears!

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By Lisa Mackenzie, MS

Clinical Audiologist


Most of us have experienced a fleeting sensation of ringing in our ears. We have been told “someone must be talking about you.” But for an estimated 50 million Americans, tinnitus is more than a fleeting sound. Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external noise is present. The word tinnitus is Latin in origin meaning “to ring or tinkle.” For many people it has become background noise. Others find it a constant annoyance that causes anxiety, depression, and fear. Tinnitus can be a ringing, buzzing, roaring, hissing or clicking noise that occurs constantly, or intermittently, in one or both ears. 

Tinnitus is not a disease but usually a symptom of an underlying condition. Some of the most common causes of tinnitus include: 

Age-related and noise-induced hearing loss – Damage occurs to hair cells, the receptors for hearing, in the cochlea. Typically, sound causes movement of the hair cells triggering an electrical response that travels to the auditory nerve and then the brain. When hair cells are damaged there is a breakdown in the normal transmission of auditory information. Research has suggested that the brain tries to “fill in” that missing auditory information thus creating a noise to stimulate the auditory cortex when no sound is present. The system is “broken” and therefore responds inappropriately. 

Ear infections or canal obstructions – Middle ear fluid and pressure buildup, earwax, dirt, and foreign material can all cause or exacerbate tinnitus.

Medications – Side effects from certain cancer drugs, antibiotics, diuretics, antidepressants, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, and antimalarial medications. Usually, the tinnitus will be eliminated once the drug is discontinued.

Other causes – TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), traumatic brain injury, vascular disease (ie: atherosclerosis, hypertension), psychiatric disorders, autoimmune diseases, acoustic neuromas and other head and neck tumors.

You should promptly schedule a medical evaluation if your tinnitus causes depression, anxiety or is accompanied by hearing loss or imbalance/dizziness.  

Prevention and mitigation 

Limit noise exposure – Repeated exposure to loud music and environmental sounds is linked to noise-induced hearing loss and tinnitus. Limiting your exposure and using hearing protection can reduce your risk.

Practice healthy living – Exercise and a healthy diet can help maintain cardiovascular health. Certain foods, drinks, stress, and fatigue can exacerbate tinnitus.

Treatment options

Hearing Aids – If you have hearing loss and tinnitus, you may benefit from amplification as many hearing aid users report reduction of tinnitus. 

Sound Therapy – External sound source to counteract perception or reaction to tinnitus. Masking the noise, habituation, or reduction of the neuro hyperactive response are possible outcomes.

Behavioral Therapies – Cognitive behavioral therapy and tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT). Provide coping strategies and address the emotional well-being of patients.  

The Riddle Experience

Tinnitus is a complex symptom that is difficult to manage on your own. Identifying the underlying cause is your first step to understanding and managing your tinnitus. Our audiologists can determine if hearing loss is a contributor. We can also help guide you towards successful management and medical intervention if appropriate.  


Jessica M. Bell, Director/Doctor of Audiology

Alexa R. Lynch, Doctor of Audiology

Lisa C. Mackenzie, M.S., Clinical Audiologist

For an appointment with a Riddle Hospital Audiologist, call 484.227.3200 or visit