Pop Quiz: When Silence Isn’t Golden: Is Tinnitus What You’re Hearing?

Our hearing is an important part of our five senses, but we don’t often think about it until something goes awry. One way your hearing could be disrupted is through the onset of tinnitus, a condition where the sufferer hears a phantom sound such as ringing or other noises in one or both ears that is not caused by an external source. For some people, tinnitus is a mild annoyance; for others, it interferes with daily life. Take our quiz to learn the ins and outs of tinnitus, how to protect your hearing, and when to see a doctor.

1.) True or false? Tinnitus affects 15% to 20% of people, and it’s especially common in older adults.


2.) In addition to ringing, what other “phantom noises” can tinnitus sufferers hear?

    1. Buzzing and clicking
    2. Roaring
    3. Hissing and humming
    4. A rhythmic pulsing or whooshing sound
    5. All of the above


3.) True or false? Tinnitus is present at all times.


4.) Why do tinnitus sufferers hear phantom sounds others cannot?

    1. The small, delicate hair cells in your inner ear (cochlea) that move and send electrical signals along the nerve from your ear to your brain when your ear receives sound waves become bent or broken, and this sends fake electrical impulses to the brain, which the brain interprets as noise.
    2. The auditory signals being sent to the brain get crossed.
    3. The phantom sounds are caused by blood moving through veins around the ear.
    4. None of the above


5.) Though the cause of tinnitus isn’t always clear, which of the following are the most common causes?

    1. Hearing loss
    2. Ear infection or ear canal blockage that changes the pressure in your ear.
    3. Head or neck injuries that affect the inner ear nerves or brain function linked to hearing.
    4. Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and certain antibiotics, cancer drugs, diuretics, antimalarial drugs and antidepressants.
    5. All of the above


6.) True or false? Loud noise exposure, such as from heavy equipment, chain saws, firearms, listening to music through headphones too loud or working in any loud environment, puts you at risk for developing tinnitus later in life.


7.) Which of the following are other risk factors for developing tinnitus?

    1. Age. The cochlea in the ear are more likely to be damaged the older you get and as the number of functioning nerve fibers in your ears declines.
    2. Sex. Men are more likely to develop tinnitus.
    3. Alcohol and tobacco use. Both alcohol and tobacco increase your risk of developing tinnitus.
    4. Health issues. Those suffering from obesity, cardiovascular problems, high blood pressure, a history of arthritis, or head injury are more likely to develop tinnitus.
    5. All of the above


8.) True or false? Using hearing protection, turning down the volume, taking care of your cardiovascular health, and limiting alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine can decrease your risk of developing tinnitus.


9.) When should you see your doctor if you suspect tinnitus?

    1. If tinnitus disrupts your daily life.
    2. If tinnitus develops after an upper respiratory infection, like a cold, and it lasts longer than a week.
    3. You also have hearing loss or dizziness with your symptoms.
    4. The tinnitus has led to experiencing anxiety or depression.
    5. All of the above


Compiled by ERIKA ALDRICH / Information provided by mayoclinic.org


  1. True. Tinnitus affects around one in five people, especially as we age.
  2. E. All of the above. While tinnitus is usually described as a ringing sound, other phantom noises can include buzzing, clicking, roaring, hissing, humming, and whooshing.
  3. False. Tinnitus can occur all the time or the sound can come and go.
  4. A. Damage to your cochlea is the usual cause of tinnitus.
  5. All of the above. There are many conditions or situations that can lead to tinnitus.
  6. True. Pretty much any situation that can damage your hearing could also lead to tinnitus.
  7. All of the above. There are many risk factors for developing tinnitus.
  8. True. Protecting your hearing and making healthy choices can reduce the risk of tinnitus.
  9. All of the above. See your doctor if your tinnitus disrupts your life, causes anxiety or depression, or is accompanied by other ailments.

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