Tinnitus can make everyday life difficult. The humming, buzzing, ringing or other sounds you hear make it hard to concentrate and sleep. If you’re one of the millions worldwide dealing with tinnitus symptoms, you’re probably wondering when they’ll go away.
The answer isn’t simple. There’s a great deal of variation in symptoms. It might last seconds or weeks. It could come and go in brief intervals or be a constant hum or pulse. Most Tinnitus is a short-term condition, but it could be permanent. Let’s explore factors that determine how long tinnitus last.
In the majority of cases, tinnitus doesn’t last very long. Tinnitus that doesn’t persist longer than three months is considered acute. Depending on the cause, the duration of acute tinnitus can be as short as a few seconds or as long as several weeks.
Here are a few common causes of acute tinnitus and what you can expect.
The type of acute tinnitus people are most likely to experience in their lifetimes is caused by exposure to loud noises. If it occurs close enough to where you’re standing, a gunshot, explosion or another sudden loud sound can damage your inner ear, producing a ringing in the ears and hearing loss. This often goes away almost instantly or after 48 hours, in more extreme cases.
However, prolonged exposure to loud noises can cause irreversible hearing damage. That’s why tinnitus is prevalent among military personnel.
If you work in loud environments regularly, wear hearing protection and schedule a routine hearing test.
Ear Wax Blockage
When ear wax gets impacted in your ear canal, you might experience tinnitus and short-term hearing loss. This can usually be reversed easily by cleaning the affected ear with over-the-counter ear drops and warm water.
If these treatments don’t work, you might need to see a doctor to have the ear wax removed using suction.
Many common bacterial and viral infections like the flu or the common cold cause congestion in the nasal-sinus cavity, which is connected to the middle ear via the eustachian tube. This can impact your ear, causing acute tinnitus and hearing loss in one or more ears.
The tinnitus symptoms will generally last as long as the infection does. That could be up to two weeks or more, depending on the illness. Treating the underlying condition with antibiotics or antivirals will help make the tinnitus go away faster.
Fluid in the Ears
Another source of acute tinnitus is fluid in the ears. A typical example is swimmer’s ear, where water gets trapped inside the ear canal after a person spends a long time underwater. Often the water will trickle out or evaporate, but tilting your head toward the affected ear for a few minutes can help speed this up.
Infections can also cause a buildup of pus and other bodily fluids that may need to be drained or flushed out by a medical professional.
Tinnitus is a side effect of many common medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory pain medications like aspirin, anti-malarial drugs, and certain anti-cancer drugs. If that’s the issue, tinnitus will disappear shortly after discontinuing the drug.
Permanent or Chronic Tinnitus
Tinnitus is considered chronic when it lasts longer than six months.
Even though your symptoms might persist for several months, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have permanent tinnitus. The good news is that many of the underlying chronic conditions that cause tinnitus can be treated. Unfortunately, some are irreversible.
Here are some causes of chronic tinnitus.
Age-related and noise-induced hearing loss are the two most common underlying conditions that cause permanent tinnitus. While this type of hearing loss can’t be reversed, hearing aids can prove helpful in mitigating some of the impacts of tinnitus.
Contact a specialist to set up a hearing survey if you have trouble hearing conversations or other reasons to suspect hearing loss may be to blame for your tinnitus.
If you’re experiencing a constant throbbing sound that pulses in time with your heartbeat, that’s pulsatile tinnitus. This relatively rare form of tinnitus is usually caused by cardiovascular conditions, including high blood pressure and plaque buildup or abnormalities in the blood vessels of the ear. Treating these conditions can relieve tinnitus in some cases.
It isn’t very common, but tinnitus can sometimes be caused by disorders and damage to the bones and muscles surrounding the ear, namely those in the neck or jaw area.
In particular, the teeth grinding associated with temporomandibular joint disorders can lead to ear pain and tinnitus. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for these conditions.
Tinnitus is associated with multiple neurological and neurodegenerative conditions, some more treatable than others. These include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Multiple sclerosis
Ear Tumors and Growths
Benign and cancerous growths inside the ear can cause tinnitus. For example, an acoustic neuroma is a noncancerous growth that forms slowly in the space between the inner ear and the brain. If it grows large enough, it can push against auditory structures, causing hearing loss and tinnitus.
Most tumors can be removed via surgery or radiation. Cancerous growths can also be addressed through chemotherapy in some cases.
When To Seek Help?
If the tinnitus is a one-off event that goes away instantly, there’s nothing to worry about.
Just wear ear protection and limit your exposure to loud noise. However, if your tinnitus is burdensome and persists for an hour or more, take notes. This could help you detect early signs of a more severe condition.
Hearing specialists suggest you keep a diary with the following questions in mind:
- How long do symptoms last?
- What type of sounds are you hearing?
- Are the sounds continuous or episodic?
- Are you experiencing headaches or other symptoms?
- Do you feel pain in the ear?
- Are you experiencing hearing loss?
You’ll also want to keep track of how much your symptoms affect your everyday life:
- Do you find it hard to go to sleep?
- How long are you sleeping?
- Are symptoms more pronounced at different times of the day?
- Are you having trouble concentrating?
If your symptoms suddenly worsen or persist for longer than two weeks, contact your primary care provider right away.
Your doctor will ask questions and examine your ear for common causes of tinnitus, like ear infections and blockage. They will administer a hearing test or conduct a screening for other chronic conditions.
If necessary, they will refer you to a hearing professional like an audiologist or an ENT, who will perform a hearing survey and some more advanced diagnostic tests to measure your tinnitus and recommend appropriate treatment, including hearing aids or masking therapy.
1. Bhatt JM, Lin HW, Bhattacharyya N. Prevalence, Severity, Exposures, and Treatment Patterns of Tinnitus in the United States. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2016;142(10):959–965. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2016.1700
2. Vielsmeier V, Santiago Stiel R, Kwok P, Langguth B and Schecklmann M (2020) From Acute to Chronic Tinnitus: Pilot Data on Predictors and Progression. Front. Neurol. 11:997. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2020.00997