Subjective and Objective Tinnitus

What is tinnitus? Tinnitus is noise (non-external) that you can hear in one or both of your ears. It often presents as a ringing or buzzing and may be constant or intermittent — coming and going — sometimes without cause. Professionals break down the affliction into 2 categories: subjective and objective tinnitus. An easy way to distinguish between the two is by determining who can hear the described noise. If it’s only the patient, then it’s subjective. If others can hear or measure the sound (often through hearing instruments), then it’s objective.

Effective management often depends on the type of tinnitus you have.

Subjective Tinnitus

The vast majority of tinnitus sufferers have subjective tinnitus, ringing in ears that can often be managed, but not fixed.

There are many treatment options for subjective tinnitus. Many doctors recommend limiting the intake of caffeine or alcohol and reducing stress. Auditory habituation or tinnitus retraining therapy is another method and involves a device or hearing aid that produces a low-level sound alongside the ringing in order to desensitize your own, possibly ingrained reactions to sound. This is similar to acoustic therapy, which – through the use of hearing aids or sound generators – masks any annoying tinnitus sounds.

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus is “usually produced by internal functions in the body’s circulatory (blood flow) and somatic (musculoskeletal movement) systems.” This type can both be heard by your hearing care specialist and can often be cured in its entirety. For those whose “buzzing, ringing, whistling” is caused by a buildup of earwax or a punctured eardrum, the path to clear sound is often as simple as fixing the underlying problem.

Objective tinnitus is rare, seen in less than a single percent of all recorded cases.

What To Do About Tinnitus

1. Don’t panic. Try not to get frustrated. Your reaction — and approach — to tinnitus can greatly affect how much it bothers you down the road. Mindset is important.

2. Talk to your audiologist. Especially if you notice a new or worsening ringing or buzzing. If it’s a symptom of another problem or not, whether it’s subjective or objective tinnitus, it’s best to get any symptoms checked by a medical professional as soon as possible.

Blog update: This was one of REM’s first blogs, published a few years ago, on the effective management of tinnitus. We have updated this article with the most up-to-date information.