What is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is an interesting term used to describe a hearing condition. The term is taken from the Latin verb “tinnire,” which means “to ring.”  Of course, that makes a lot of sense when you understand that the defining trait of this condition is a constant ringing in your ears.  Clinically, though, experts like Audiologie Centre-Ouest describe symptoms of tinnitus can also include buzzing, hissing, whistling, swooshing, or clicking sounds.


Most people will experience acute tinnitus at some point in their lives.  Acute tinnitus is temporary lasting only a few seconds in some cases.  Essentially, exposure to loud noises can result in tinnitus with extended and prolonged exposure leading to longer periods of tinnitus, often associated with temporary injury to the ear.  

Acute tinnitus can go away on its own. Basically it is like any type of injury:  simply get away from the loud noises that cause the problem and the overworked or injured organ will get some rest and recover.  


When tinnitus lasts, consistently, for more than three months it is considered chronic.  If you reach this point, the ringing (or buzzing or whistling, etc.) will not go away on its own.  This is, technically, a form of hearing loss—which can be caused by age or hearing damage or acute trauma to the auditory system as a whole—and this causes external sound stimuli to reach the brain.  When this happens, the brain adapts with neuroplastic changes in the way it processes various types of sound frequencies. Thus, chronic tinnitus is the result of these maladaptive neuroplastic changes.  


According the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 15 percent of the general public (equates to about 50 million Americans) live with some form of tinnitus. Of this population, about 40 percent (approximately 20 million people) struggle with chronic tinnitus with about 2 million reporting extreme and debilitating cases of the condition.

Patients who experience chronic tinnitus may find relief from hearing aids and other sound amplification devices.  Of course, if you are trying to treat chronic tinnitus, it is also important to determine if there is any other type of damage or hearing loss so you can effectively treat those as well.