That Ringing or Buzzing Isn’t Always Permanent. Get the Facts Here.
Q: I’ve been experiencing high-pitched sounds in my head for as long as I can remember. They’re infrequent but kind of disruptive — I might be in the middle of a conversation, and suddenly this sonic whine erupts in my ear before fading out soon afterward. Do annoying tinnitus sounds like these ever go away?
A: The short answer: Sometimes. In certain cases, tinnitus can eventually resolve on its own over time or with treatment of the underlying condition that caused it. For many, the problem could be permanent but potentially manageable with specific therapies.
Let’s look at factors that influence tinnitus, the likelihood of the condition resolving, and what you can do.
Some Tinnitus Basics
Before diving into the question of whether tinnitus goes away, it’s important to understand what the condition is — and isn’t. Tinnitus isn’t a disease. Instead it’s a sign or symptom of a more primary medical issue — for example, head or neck injury, medication reaction, ear infection, temporomandibular joint issues, ear-canal blockage, or hearing loss.
One of the most commonly described tinnitus symptoms involves ringing in the ears or head. Other sounds, however, can include buzzing, clicking, whooshing, hissing, humming, high-pitched sonic sensations, or even musical notes. They can be intermittent or continuous, with frequency and intensity varying from person to person.
Most of the time, the sound is audible only to the person experiencing the symptoms. Known as “subjective tinnitus,” this more common occurrence relates to issues within the auditory system, such as age-related hearing loss, earwax blockages, or inner-ear damage from excess exposure to loud noise.
With objective tinnitus, however, both the affected person and others — for example, a health care provider using a stethoscope or listening close to the ear, can hear the sounds. Though rare, this occurrence is more possible with pulsatile tinnitus and is usually linked to physical issues such as blood vessel disorders or muscle contractions near the ear.
Tinnitus can occur in one or both ears and generally comes in two forms. Determining which type of tinnitus you’re dealing with can play a role in uncovering the cause:
- Pulsatile tinnitus is characterized by ear-ringing that seems to pulse in sync with the person’s heartbeat. It typically originates from issues such as heightened blood pressure, artery problems near the ear, or blockages in the ear canal.
- Nonpulsatile tinnitus is characterized by a ringing, humming, or other sound unrelated to any pulsing or rhythm. It’s more common and typically arises, for example, from earwax blockage, noise exposure, or age-related hearing loss.
Tinnitus Resolution — Influencing Factors
As many as 1 in 4 people may have tinnitus, which can be temporary or permanent. And just as each person’s tinnitus symptoms can prove quite different from another’s, resolution can also vary and may depend on factors including underlying cause, overall health, lifestyle factors, and other elements that can come into play.
Here are some key influencers on whether tinnitus goes away:
Reversible Root Cause
If the tinnitus resulted from a potentially reversible issue, such as an earwax blockage, an ear infection, or a medication side effect, addressing the cause may lead to resolution. In these cases, the tinnitus may lessen or potentially disappear altogether.
Age-Related Hearing Decline
With aging can come a decrease in the ear’s functioning hair cells, which in turn could lead to hearing loss-related tinnitus. The tinnitus may not entirely disappear, but hearing aids or treatments specific to tinnitus can help address it and the hearing difficulties.
Noise-Related Hearing Problems
From music concerts to power tools, motorcycle engines, heavy machinery, and even some everyday appliances, exposure to sounds at or above the danger threshold of 85 decibels can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus, which can be temporary or permanent.
In addition to avoiding exposure to loud noises, discussed above, other actions such as reducing stress, getting restful sleep, eating a balanced diet, eschewing tobacco, and engaging in regular exercise may also help reduce or in some cases eliminate symptoms.
As mentioned earlier, some people may find that their tinnitus gradually fades over time. Others may experience a persistent perception of sound. Factors such as genetics and individual sensitivity to tinnitus symptoms could contribute to these variations.
Common Tinnitus Treatments
Tinnitus can be effectively managed. Depending on the underlying cause, addressing the problem may include approaches ranging from earwax removal, hearing aids, cochlear implants, or sound devices to medication adjustments, lifestyle changes, or interventions such as tinnitus retraining therapy.
Other types of counseling, such as sleep, cognitive behavioral therapy, or relaxation methods, can also play an important role in helping you or a loved one manage tinnitus symptoms by reducing the stress, anxiety, and sleeplessness often associated with the condition.
Relief might also involve habituation, in which the brain adapts to tinnitus such that symptoms are significantly less bothersome. Sound therapy, using external sounds to reduce the perceived intensity of tinnitus noise and make it less noticeable, can play a role in that approach.
In certain situations, surgery recommended to correct an underlying issue — an acoustic neuroma or benign tumor along a hearing nerve, for example — may help relieve tinnitus symptoms for some patients.
As you can see, a range of factors help determine tinnitus resolution. Though the symptoms may not disappear for everyone, they can be significantly reduced and controlled. You don’t have to put up with tinnitus!
Tinnitus at a Glance: 7 Quick Facts
- Tinnitus — the perception of ringing, buzzing, clicking, or other head or ear noises usually with no external source — is not a disease but often instead a sign or symptom of an underlying issue.
- Up to 25% of the global population may have tinnitus, which can affect people of nearly every age but appears to be most common among those between 40 and 80.
- Various conditions can lead to tinnitus, including exposure to loud noise, earwax blockages, head or neck trauma, ear infection, age-related hearing loss, or other conditions such as Ménière’s disease.
- Tinnitus can significantly impact a person’s quality of life, disturbing the ability to concentrate or sleep; interfering with everyday activities; and even, in some cases, leading to anxiety, depression, or other mental-health challenges.
- Though most tinnitus doesn’t self-resolve, various treatments such as sound therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, hearing aids, and even some lifestyle changes can significantly limit its symptoms, intensity, and impact.
- Research into tinnitus is always ongoing, with science working to better understand how it develops, explore future treatments, and improve quality of life for those experiencing symptoms.
- Prevention plays a big role, making it especially important to limit exposure to loud noises (including wearing hearing protection) and schedule regular hearing evaluations to catch and address potential issues early.
Are you or a loved one experiencing tinnitus? It’s essential to consult a professional to determine the underlying cause and develop an appropriate plan tailored to your individual needs. If you have questions about the condition or want to learn what management options might be available, don’t wait. Contact our knowledgeable team today!