Lauren Fournier, PT, DPT
This may seem like a silly question, but when you think of silence do you hear nothing? For many people silence isn’t truly silent. They often will still hear background noise. Tinnitus (pronounced tih-NITE-us or TIN-ih-tus) is sound in the head with no external source. For many there are different variations. It could be a ringing sound, whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or even shrieking. The sound may seem to be in one or both ears, from inside the head, or from a distance. It may be constant or intermittent, steady, or pulsating.
Almost everyone has had tinnitus for a short time after being exposed to extremely loud noise, such as after attending a loud concert or music played at a busy bar. Some ototoxic medications (especially aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs taken in high doses) can cause tinnitus that goes away when the drug is discontinued. When it lasts more than six months, it is known as chronic tinnitus. As many as 50 to 60 million people in the United States suffer from this condition. It is prevalent for people over 55 and is strongly associated with hearing loss. Whereas, many people worry that tinnitus is a sign that they are going deaf or have another serious medical problem, it rarely is.
There is no cure for chronic tinnitus. But it often becomes less noticeable and more manageable over time and there is some hope for people in this category. On June 11, 2020, Congressman Tim Ryan (OH-13) announced a grant for $972,613 from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders, which will be applied to further research and development for tinnitus prevention and treatment.