Tinnitus can sound like ringing, buzzing, roaring, hissing, white noise, static, or a few other types of sounds. There are two things we know really well about ringing in the ears. Number one is that you’re going to hear it louder when you’re in a quiet place: for example, going to sleep at night or being in a quiet room all by yourself. The second thing we know is that the tinnitus is directly linked to your stress levels. If you’re feeling very relaxed, your tinnitus probably isn’t going to be that big of a deal. But if you’ve had a bad night’s sleep, or you’re feeling stressed from relationships or work, it’s normal for your tinnitus to be louder and more bothersome.

About 15% of Americans report some form of tinnitus. Ringing in the ears has been known to affect quality of life. Some examples are being unable to get peace and quiet, struggling to concentrate while reading, or having a hard time falling asleep. You may want to tell your primary doctor that you have tinnitus. About 80% of people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss that shows up on a hearing test, so you never know what you’re missing until you get it checked out. It is possible that the noise in your ears can be related to a treatable medical condition.

It’s normal for tinnitus to sound different for each individual. Sometimes it can sound like ringing, other times buzzing, roaring, hissing, white noise, static pulsing—there are many different ways to hear tinnitus. Describing the correct sound of your tinnitus can sometimes tell your doctor whether they can actually treat it and make it go away.

So there are some basic differences for you to know about tinnitus. Number one is that the perceived volume can be much different. One person can perceive it as very loud, while another can perceive it as soft. Another difference is the actual pitch or quality of the sound. One person might hear it at 10,000 hertz (that’s the frequency of the pitch), while someone else might hear it at around 4000 or 6000 hertz. So there’s a big variance there in how it affects your ear, and eventually up into your brain.

Dr. Thompson explains if ringing in the ears is normal.

Should I Be Worried If My Ears Are Ringing?

Audiologists can administer a test to measure the sensation level or loudness of the tinnitus that someone experiences, comparing the tinnitus level to their threshold for that certain frequency. Oftentimes, it’s less than 10 decibels, sometimes less than five decibels. But for two people with the same sensation level of tinnitus, one can report it as significantly affecting their life, and the other can report it as only a mild problem.

I’m an audiologist. I work as a hearing doctor. I see it all the time where a patient comes in and reports slight tinnitus. Even though the loudness of the tinnitus can be minimal, it can still negatively impact their quality of life. For some people, tinnitus is a neutral experience.

“Yeah, it’s there. But I don’t really pay much attention to it. So what?”

For other people it can be bothersome. “I don’t like it, it annoys me. What is it?”

For a small section of people tinnitus can be very bothersome, to the point where it causes depression, anxiety, stress, and stops them from doing the things that they love. It is very common for some patients to have a hard time reading in quiet places because they hear the ringing in their ears. Tinnitus can also make it hard to enjoy peace and quiet.

Another big way that tinnitus can affect you is if it causes you to have bad sleep. Finally, tinnitus can affect the way you’re communicating with family and friends. If you have ringing in your ears, and you’re having a hard time actually hearing the people you’re talking with because of how distracting and loud the tinnitus is, that can affect your quality of life.

How Does Tinnitus Affect Your Daily Life?

Ringing in the ears has been known to affect quality of life. Some examples are being unable to get peace and quiet, struggling to concentrate while reading, or having a hard time falling asleep.

I always recommend that you tell your primary doctor that you have tinnitus. A majority of people with tinnitus have some degree of hearing loss that shows up on a hearing test, so you never know what you’re missing until you get it checked out. It is possible that the noise in your ears can be related to a treatable medical condition.

This is especially true if you hear ringing only in one ear, a low pitch roaring noise, fluid in your ears, or pulsing heartbeat sensations. Any of those symptoms could be related to a treatable medical condition. You should definitely tell your doctor if you have one of those symptoms.

It’s normal for tinnitus to sound different for each individual. Sometimes it can sound like ringing, other times buzzing, roaring, hissing, white noise, static pulsing—there are many different ways to hear tinnitus. Describing the correct sound of your tinnitus can sometimes tell your doctor whether they can actually treat it and make it go away.

Dr. Thompson explains how tinnitus can vary by individual person.

Is Constant Ringing In Ears Bad?

Tinnitus is variable and can have differences between individuals. But is it bad for your health?

One person can perceive tinnitus as very loud, while another can perceive it as soft. Another difference is the actual pitch or quality of the sound. One person might hear it at 10,000 hertz (that’s the frequency of the pitch), while someone else might hear it at around 4000 or 6000 hertz. There’s a big variance in how it affects your ear, and eventually up into your brain.

When To Seek Medical Attention For Ringing In The Ears

It is important to describe your tinnitus very well to your audiologist, primary doctor, or ear, nose, and throat (ENT) physician. That could potentially lead your doctors to find a way to treat your tinnitus. There are certain cases where the ringing in your ears is from a condition that can be medically treated or cured. Unfortunately, most forms of tinnitus are permanent and unlikely to be cured.

The most common expression of tinnitus is if you have ringing in the ears that has progressed gradually over time and is equal in both ears. That’s likely related to a problem in your inner ear, the cochlea, and there’s no cure or surgery to make that go away. However, giving the correct description of your tinnitus is the best way to lead to a possible treatment.

A good example of treatable tinnitus is low frequency or roaring tinnitus, which could be related to Meniere’s disease. Another example is unilateral high-pitched tinnitus, which means tinnitus only in one ear. Unilateral tinnitus be related to a vestibular schwannoma, also called acoustic neuroma, which is a growth on your auditory nerve.

Something else that might be related to a medical condition would be feeling like you have water in your ear, or hearing some sort of whooshing sound. That might be related to an ear infection or having fluid behind your eardrum. Finally, if you have tinnitus that sounds like a heartbeat or pulsing sensation, it could be related to a cardiovascular problem, and you could possibly get treatment for it.

There are many types of challenges when it comes to ringing in the ears. A correct diagnosis could potentially improve your problem. It’s also good to know that whatever kind of tinnitus you have, it’s going to affect your life differently than someone else’s tinnitus.

To learn what may help you manage your tinnitus, please download our free 10-page e-book, The Ultimate Guide to Tinnitus Relief.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson, Au.D.

Dr. Ben Thompson is an audiologist in California and founder of Pure Tinnitus. Dr. Thompson has a comprehensive knowledge of tinnitus management. He completed his residency at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) and is a past board member of the California Academy of Audiology. Via telehealth, Dr. Thompson provides services to patients with hearing loss and tinnitus.

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