Tinnitus is often described as ringing, buzzing, humming, clicking, hissing, etc. in the ears, but it can be any sound or a combination of sounds. Tinnitus can be pronounced “TIN-uh-tis” or “ti-NIGHT-us” either way is correct. According to statistics from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, an estimated 12 million people in the United States suffer from tinnitus. Symptoms range from a mild annoyance to a constant, all-consuming distraction, which may lead to insomnia and trouble concentrating. Tinnitus results from nerve activity that the brain interprets as “sound” when no sound is actually present. The most common cause of tinnitus is exposure to loud noise. It can also result from medication, ear wax, head injury, and many other causes. It is almost impossible to know the exact cause of tinnitus because it can be associated with many conditions. However tinnitus is often associated with high frequency hearing loss although they do not always occur together. Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss but sometime it can seem to interfere with hearing.
There is no cure for tinnitus but there are some treatment options that can make it less noticeable and there are certain things that can make tinnitus worse. Treatment may be helpful for you if your tinnitus is affecting your sleep, ability to concentrate, emotional well-being, or daily activities. Sometimes lifestyle changes can help reduce tinnitus such as reducing excessive use of caffeine, alcohol, salt, aspirin, and nicotine. Tinnitus is typically worse when you are stressed physically or emotionally, or when you are sleep-deprived.
Hearing testing is important to identify any coexisting hearing loss. When this exists, hearing aids can help both with the hearing loss and the tinnitus. Hearing aids can help with a hearing problem by amplifying sounds and keeping your ears “busy” causing the tinnitus to be less bothersome. Another solution to help tinnitus is to use masking noise (white noise) such as a noise-maker, or simply a radio set to static. There are also various hearing aids that have a built-in tinnitus masking feature.
You may need a medical evaluation if your tinnitus is in one ear, or if you have any changes in your hearing, ear pain, head or neck problems, or balance issues. An Ear, Nose, and Throat (ENT) physician along with an audiologist can check for any medical problems that may be causing your tinnitus and provide tinnitus management and coping strategies to help lessen tinnitus.
Causes and Concerns
Tinnitus can originate in one of four areas: the brain, inner ear, outer ear, and the middle you’re your treatment depends on the cause of your tinnitus. Common causes include:
- Trauma to the ear (being hit with a hard object, car accident, fall)
- Untreated and recurrent ear infections
- Loud music or noise for a prolonged period of time
- Age-related hearing loss
- Exposure to loud noise
- Earwax buildup
- Abnormal bone growth in the ear
- Meniere's disease
- Stress and depression
- Head or neck injuries
- Benign tumor of the cranial nerve
- Long-term aspirin use
Most people who suffer from tinnitus find ways to cope with the annoying noise and can go on living a normal life. Those who are extremely bothered by eventually find a treatment or a combination of treatments that help to deal with it. If you or someone you love has tinnitus, call today for an appointment with one of our caring ear specialists.
In some cases, the exact cause of the tinnitus may not be found but serious underlying conditions can be ruled out. In order to find out the root cause of your tinnitus, your physician or hearing specialist will conduct a complete medical history, as well as a complete examination.