At some point in our lives, many of us experience tinnitus. Tinnitus is characterized by a noise in your ears which doesn't exist externally. Most people describe the sound that they hear as a ringing or buzzing, but other sounds reported include wheezing, hissing, clicking, squealing and ticking. 

Many people think of tinnitus as a stand-alone condition, and don't bother seeking help for a short episode. But tinnitus isn't a condition on its own, rather a symptom of something else. 

This, however, means that there's no easy answer to how long your tinnitus may last, or whether it's temporary or permanent. This ultimately depends on the cause of your hearing change, and any other symptoms that you may be experiencing. While most cases of tinnitus are common and treatable, some are more serious and many require help from an audiologist

How long will tinnitus last?

Many cases of tinnitus are the result of sudden exposure to very loud noise. We measure sound in decibels. Typical conversation in a quiet room would measure at around 50-60 decibels. Our ears can cope with this just fine. A gunshot is about 140 decibels, most of us would find this uncomfortable. But loud noises aren't just uncomfortable; they are damaging our inner ears. 

Even a short, very loud noise can cause tinnitus, but this will usually go away fairly quickly. If the loud noises last longer, perhaps because you are at a concert, then your symptoms could last longer and if you are regularly exposed to loud noises, perhaps at work, your symptoms could even become permanent. 

Other temporary causes of tinnitus include:

  • Earwax: Some of us never have waxy build-up in our ears; others find that they get regular episodes of tinnitus due to wax. How waxy your ears are can depend on where you spend your time, your overall health, how often you wear earphones and how you clean your ears. Some of us are just more prone to excess earwax than others. 
  • Medications: Certain medications adjust our blood flow and pressure, which can cause temporary tinnitus. Other medications, known as ototoxic medicines, can also cause tinnitus, but it usually vanishes as soon as you stop taking the medicine. 
  • Medical conditions: High blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions can all cause tinnitus. How long this last will depend on your condition, but it will usually get better if you are able to manage your symptoms or recover fully. 
  • Ear infection: Another incredibly common cause of tinnitus is an ear infection. An ear infection can be a bacterial or viral infection affecting the inner ear. This can lead to swelling and fluid build-up. Some infections require treatment with antibiotics, and others get better with rest. Ear infections can be recurring and chronic, so if you get regular episodes of tinnitus, this may be something that you should discuss with your audiologist. 
  • Perforated eardrum: Perforated eardrums are often caused by loud noises, infections or changes in air pressure. As well as tinnitus, other symptoms include fluid leakage and earache. Perforated eardrums do usually heal well, and your tinnitus should go away as it does, but you should see an audiologist in case an infection is present. 

Could tinnitus be permanent?

Tinnitus can be permanent, and the best way to know how long your tinnitus is likely to last is to understand what is causing it. If the cause is temporary, like in the case of an ear infection or loud noise, it's most likely that the tinnitus will also be temporary. But, if you are experiencing a long-term condition affecting the ear, such as Meniere’s disease, your tinnitus may be more long-lasting or even permanent. If your tinnitus is caused by the natural loss of hearing that's common with aging, then it may also be permanent. 

But that doesn't mean that it isn't treatable. Even permanent tinnitus can be managed with help from an audiologist. 

When to see an audiologist

If you've been exposed to loud noise, and your tinnitus passes quickly, it's not usually something that needs diagnosing. But, if the cause isn't clear, your tinnitus doesn't seem to be going away, or you have other symptoms which may suggest an infection or eardrum damage, you should make an appointment with an audiologist. 

If you have any questions, you want to find out more, or book an appointment, get in touch with The Hearing and Tinnitus Center at 303-534-0163.