Shhh. Stop what you’re doing. And listen. Just listen. Do you hear that? That persistent or intermittent sound that has no source yet seems to be coming from absolutely everywhere. It can be irritating and distracting even when there’s a normal amount of background noise. But when you’re in quiet surroundings, it can seem deafeningly loud. You may experience it as a humming or a buzzing, a ringing or a whistling. You may even “hear” it as a clicking. But whatever it sounds like – it’s tinnitus.

It’s entirely common for most of us to experience tinnitus at various points in our lives. It usually happens when we go from a loud and noisy environment to somewhere that’s quieter and more serene. In most cases, it comes and goes within 24 hours. In some cases, however, it can persist and become an irritation and a distraction that detracts from your quality of living and even keeps you awake at night.

Knowing the cause is the first step

It’s essential to understand that tinnitus, annoying and obnoxious as it may be, is a symptom rather than a condition. Persistent tinnitus is usually a sign that you have an underlying issue with the delicate workings of your inner ear. Knowing the cause is the first step towards implementing an effective solution. A trained hearing professional can help you to identify the cause and recommend an appropriate course of treatment.

Here are some of the most common reasons why you may have developed tinnitus:

You spend too much time in noisy environments

If you work or spend a lot of leisure time in noisy environments like construction sites, night clubs, live music venues or busy bars or restaurants, this could be at the root of your tinnitus. Noisy environments damage the tiny hair cells in our inner ears and send electrical impulses to the brain, which are interpreted as sound. This is why only we can hear tinnitus.

You have a stressful job or lifestyle

Stress is, unfortunately, an all-too-common presence in the American workplace. Many of us are working harder and longer than the previous generations. This is a potent recipe for hypertension (high blood pressure) which in turn is a common cause of tinnitus.

If your busy days are fueled by cappuccino and salty snacks from the office vending machine, these can also exacerbate tinnitus.

Your ears need to be cleaned out

Earwax may not be the most pleasant substance on the planet, but it’s hugely important to us. We need it to keep the delicate skin of the ear canal from hardening and to keep ear infections at bay. However, if you notice that your tinnitus is accompanied by hearing loss and a feeling of pressure in one or both ears, you may need to get your ears cleaned out by a hearing professional.

You have an inner ear infection or a genetic condition

Finally, if you experience a loss of balance, feelings of dizziness or vertigo and hearing loss along with tinnitus, this could point to an inner ear infection or even a genetic condition like Meniere’s disease.

Whatever the root cause, a hearing professional is an invaluable resource in helping you to live a life free from the irritation of tinnitus. By carrying out a combination of hearing tests and ear examinations, they can identify the underlying cause and ensure that you get the right treatment to suit your needs.