Tinnitus – the medical term for ringing in the ears – affects up to 10 percent of the American population. While many of us have occasionally suffered from tinnitus after attending a loud event or standing near fireworks without ear protection, the tinnitus that plagues many Americans is chronic and disrupts their ability to live a normal lifestyle. For three key reasons, tinnitus is also a serious health concern. 

1. Tinnitus could indicate a serious medical condition that needs immediate attention.

Tinnitus has many triggers from both inside and outside the body and some of them are serious. For instance, certain anti-inflammatory pain relievers, diuretics and antibiotics can be ototoxic – toxic to your hearing. In these cases, tinnitus can be completely treated by discontinuing those medications (although any hearing damage could be permanent).

Other medical causes of tinnitus are not as easy to remedy. If your tinnitus sounds like a whooshing or rhythmic heartbeat instead of a ringing or buzzing sound, you could have pulsatile tinnitus. This condition is usually caused by problems with blood vessels in the neck and sometimes signals the presence of a tumor.

2. Tinnitus can point to other hearing and medical conditions or injuries that need to be treated.

Regardless of whether it’s an emergency, tinnitus can be caused by other problems that need treatment. About 90 percent of tinnitus cases are related to hearing loss, but it can also be caused by Meniere’s disease, an injury or defect in your ears, head or neck, TMJ, hardening of the ear bones or even things as simple as infections or earwax buildup. All these conditions can be diagnosed by an audiologist and referred to other medical professionals, if necessary.

3. Tinnitus can cause health-disrupting side effects.

Even when tinnitus is benign (the term used for all other non-emergency cases related to the auditory nerve), it causes stress on the body’s systems and can gradually harm your health in serious ways. Many people who suffer from chronic tinnitus develop insomnia, anxiety, social isolation and depression.

While your case of tinnitus might not be completely cured with hearing aids, surgeries or other medical treatments, audiologists can provide you with training and devices to adjust and live a health life that’s free of these negative side effects.

Tinnitus should always be treated as a serious health concern. If you’ve been dealing with chronic tinnitus, visit an audiologist for help.