Constant Ringing in Your Ears? What to Know About Tinnitus

Kevin BiniazanMay 9, 2013

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), around one in seven Virginians deals with tinnitus—a persistent ringing or buzzing in one’s ears associated with mild to moderate hearing loss. Up to 2 million Americans have severe tinnitus that can be disabling and impact just about every facet of their everyday lives. 

While the connection between tinnitus and hearing loss can lead to the assumption that this condition is caused by exposure to loud noises or damage to the ear itself, many cases of tinnitus are actually caused by trauma to the head or neck. Below, we discuss some of the causes of tinnitus, treatment options, and what you can do if your tinnitus was caused by another person’s negligence.

What Is Tinnitus?

While it may seem like tinnitus-based ringing is coming from your ears, it actually originates inside your brain. Tinnitus occurs when the brain—in an attempt to hear certain frequencies better—turns up the signal of other frequencies. Just like turning up a hearing aid too far can lead to a cacophony of background noise that prevents you from hearing clearly, the brain’s response to hearing loss can create a constant ringing or buzzing sound.

A 2011 study sought to answer why some people seem to be especially vulnerable to tinnitus. Researchers suggest that the limbic system (the part of the brain involved in behavioral and emotional responses) serves as a gatekeeper to prevent the tinnitus signal from reaching the part of the brain that processes sounds. For people suffering from tinnitus, the limbic system is no longer able to block this signal.

This study also noted that many tinnitus sufferers tend to have a loss of volume in the brain’s medial prefrontal cortex—which isn’t a part of the brain that processes sound but is closely connected to the limbic system. This may also explain why tinnitus is closely associated with depression, which can also result from limbic system disruption.

Tinnitus as a Side Effect of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

Tinnitus can be caused by a number of different factors, from medical conditions to certain medications to long-term exposure to loud noises. However, many cases of tinnitus stem directly from head and neck injuries—concussions, skull fractures, and other TBIs can damage sensitive nerves and other brain structures, including the prefrontal cortex, that help guard against tinnitus. 

TBIs can often occur in car crashes, slip-and-fall accidents, sports injuries, and just about any other incident in which you suffer whiplash or your head collides with another object. Some people may even experience TBI after riding a rough roller coaster. 

Because it can be tough to pinpoint the cause of tinnitus—even if it developed shortly after an injury to your brain—it’s important to seek a diagnosis from a medical professional to eliminate some of the possibilities above. Connecting your tinnitus to your TBI can strengthen any legal claim against the responsible party.

If another person’s or business’s negligence led to your TBI, they may be responsible for any damages resulting from your tinnitus.

Other Common Causes of Tinnitus

Even if you’re sure your tinnitus was caused by a TBI, it’s important to rule out other potential causes that could be used to weaken your claim. Some of the other conditions or situations that may cause tinnitus include: 

  • Short- and long-term exposure to loud noise. You may experience a day or two of ringing ears after attending a concert without using ear protection; however, short-term tinnitus usually resolves fairly quickly. For those who work in loud industries, tinnitus may develop over time, often in conjunction with hearing loss.
  • Age-related biological changes. Hearing loss often occurs with age, and tinnitus can come hand-in-hand with hearing loss. 
  • Bone growth conditions. Some conditions, like otosclerosis, can create bone formations around the ear canal that may impact the way noise travels to the brain. In addition, certain medications, including those designed to prevent osteoporosis, may also impact bone formation and affect your brain’s hearing signals.
  • Benign tumors. If you have tinnitus in only one ear, or if it’s much worse in one ear than the other, it could be due to an acoustic neuroma—a benign tumor that develops along the nerve that regulates hearing and balance. A CT or MRI scan of the brain can usually confirm or rule this condition out.

Do You Have Tinnitus?

For many tinnitus sufferers, the answer can seem obvious. But for some, tinnitus may come and go, seemingly at random. And for others, tinnitus can sound more like hissing or clicking than a high-pitched ringing. 

So how can you know if you suffer from tinnitus? Tinnitus can include the following sounds:

  • Ringing
  • Buzzing
  • Hissing
  • Clicking
  • Humming
  • Roaring
  • Ringing
  • A noise like television static

Tinnitus can be occasional or constant. Those with intermittent tinnitus may find that the periods of ringing or buzzing become longer as the condition grows worse. In other cases, the tinnitus may slowly go away on its own. 

Though tinnitus is often a side effect of TBI, it comes with side effects of its own. Those who live with tinnitus often suffer from a constellation of other symptoms, including: 

  • Anxiety and mental distress
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of memory or the ability to retain new information
  • Irritability
  • Insomnia 
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Depression

These side effects, particularly depression and the inability to concentrate, can often make it tougher to find the motivation to seek treatment. 

Tinnitus Treatments & Prognosis

Unfortunately, there’s no proven cure for chronic tinnitus that doesn’t resolve on its own. However, there are some therapies and treatments that can help make living with tinnitus more manageable. These include: 

  • Hearing aids. If tinnitus has developed as a way for the brain to compensate for hearing loss, using hearing aids can sometimes help.
  • Sound-masking therapies. Although the noise of tinnitus is coming from inside your brain, it can sometimes be counteracted with white noise or other sound-masking treatments and therapies.
  • Prescription medication. When tinnitus is caused by a loss of prefrontal cortex volume and is accompanied by depression, some antidepressants may be able to help.

As with so many other conditions, the more quickly you seek treatment for your tinnitus, the more options are available.

How Long Will Tinnitus Last? 

Some cases of tinnitus will resolve on their own within a few days, weeks, or months. But tinnitus that is caused by a head injury or TBI and doesn’t resolve within a year is likely permanent. 

In these cases, it’s important to seek a diagnosis that drills down into what caused your tinnitus—and then, to contact an attorney to protect your legal rights. Under Virginia law, those who are injured due to another person’s negligent or reckless actions have only two years from the date of the injury to file a civil lawsuit. Missing this deadline could leave you without any recourse for your injuries. 

At Breit Biniazan, our attorneys have decades of experience in fighting for the rights of injured people. Don’t delay—give us a call at (855) 212-8200 to set up a consultation to discuss your options if you think your tinnitus is a result of someone else’s negligence.

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