What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus, also known as a ringing in the ear is a widespread condition that affects an estimated 50 million Americans. Some people describe it as a hissing, roaring, whooshing or buzzing sound instead of ringing. It may be sporadic or constant and can be a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease itself. Tinnitus is also classified as being either subjective or objective .
Tinnitus only you can hear is called subjective. Subjective tinnitus is the most common type and is often caused by ototoxic medications or one of many audiological, neurological, metabolic and psychological conditions.
Objective tinnitus is much rarer and the sound it causes can be heard by the patient and an outside examiner or observer. This type of tinnitus is often tied to underlying vascular or neurological problems. Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature. Objective tinnitus is very rare.
Tinnitus is also categorized as being either pulsatile or non-pulsatile.
People who suffer from pulsatile tinnitus report hearing the sound of their own pulse. It is caused by abnormal blood flow within the arteries of the neck or inside the ear and is fairly rare. Possible causes include:
- Fluid in the middle ear
- Ear infections
- Conductive hearing loss
- High blood pressure
- Head and neck tumors
- Blocked arteries
- Thinning of the bone surrounding the inner ear
Non-pulsatile tinnitus is a sound in the ears not accompanied by any type of rhythm is considerably more common. It can be caused by a variety of conditions including:
- Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss)
- Noise exposure
- Impacted earwax
- Otosclerosis (stiffening of the bones in the middle ear)
- Meniere’s disease
- TMJ disorders
- Ototoxic medications
- Thyroid conditions
- Head or neck trauma
- Acoustic neuromas
In addition to hearing a ringing in the ear, tinnitus can have an impact your quality of life. Many with tinnitus will also experience:
- Trouble sleeping
- Problems concentrating
- Issues with memory
How Tinnitus is Diagnosed
In order to treat your tinnitus, your doctor will try to determine the cause. After reviewing your medical history and completing a physical exam of your ears, head and neck, your doctor may order some tests including hearing exams, movement assessments and imaging tests.
Sometimes the cause is as simple as built-up earwax or a new medication. Unfortunately for most, the condition responsible for their tinnitus is never identified.
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Tinnitus can’t be cured, but there are treatments that make it less of a distraction. The approach taken depends on the underlying condition responsible for the ringing in your ears.
For those without an obvious cause, their treatment options are focused on making their tinnitus less bothersome. Noise suppression therapy or masking techniques are designed to cover up the ringing noise by drowning it out with another sound. White noise machines, fans, air conditioners and humidifiers are all popular, easy to use options.
Tinnitus retraining devices, which rely on patterned tones, are a newer technique that has proven beneficial to many patients.
Hearing aids are a commonly recommended treatment option as nearly 90 percent of those with a ringing in their ears also experience hearing loss. Some hearing aids have a tinnitus setting while other models can be turned up to amplify sounds and drown out the tinnitus.