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 is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease itself. There are many factors that can cause tinnitus.
What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is categorized as being either pulsatile or nonpulsatile.
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
- High blood pressure
- Head and neck tumors
- Blocked arteries
A ringing 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
Tinnitus is also classified as being either subjective (heard only by the patient) or objective (ringing can be heard by an impartial observer, such as a doctor). Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature.
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. 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 settings while other models can be turned up to amplify sounds and drown out the tinnitus.