What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is often described as “ringing” or “buzzing” in the ears, but it can be any sound or combination of sounds. A hearing condition that can really interfere with a persons day-to-day life. Tinnitus results from nerve activity that the brain interprets as “sound.” Everyone experiences tinnitus at some point in their life. Some people experience constant or near-constant tinnitus, which can become painful, and usually leads to finding help for pain relief.
Ideal Candidates for Tinnitus Treatment
Treatment can make tinnitus less of a problem. While not everyone with tinnitus needs treatment, treatment may be helpful for you if your tinnitus is affecting your sleep, ability to concentrate, emotional well being, or daily activities. You may need a medical evaluation if your tinnitus is on one side of the head, or if you have changes in your hearing, ear pain, head, or neck problems, or balance issues.
What are the symptoms of tinnitus?
Tinnitus is any perceived noise or sound in someone’s ear when there isn’t any external sound present. These are also known as phantom noises. Tinnitus may vary in pitch and loudness even throughout the day. It can occur in one or both ears. Some common terms people use to describe tinnitus include:
While about 20 percent of people are aware of their tinnitus, 98% of people will hear a sound in their ears or head in absolute silence. In some cases, though, the ringing or other sound can become so loud it interferes with the person’s ability to concentrate or listen to external sound.
Common causes of tinnitus
The most common cause of tinnitus is from exposure to loud noises. It can also result from head injury, medications or earwax. It can be impossible to know the exact cause of tinnitus because it is associated with so many conditions, such as high blood pressure, stress, dental problems, metabolic problems and high cholesterol. This is why it is best to have your ears evaluated to determine your specific concern.
What is the connection between tinnitus and hearing loss?
Damage to the ears often results in both hearing loss and tinnitus. However, they do not always occur together. Tinnitus does not cause hearing loss but sometimes can seem to interfere with hearing. An audiologist can determine if you have a hearing problem. The high-pitched ringing that is the most common form of tinnitus has been proven in various studies to usually accompany some degree of hearing loss. The causes of this type of hearing loss and high-pitched tinnitus are usually:
- Age-related hearing loss — As we age, our hearing deteriorates, this typically starts around the age of 60. This form of hearing loss occurs in both ears and usually involves the loss of high-frequency sounds. The majority of seniors have some degree of tinnitus, and this is thought to be a result of this type of hearing loss.
- Noise-induced hearing loss — Auditory damage from continued exposure to loud noises, either in a single event or over time, can cause permanent damage to your hearing. Tinnitus usually accompanies this. Unlike age-related hearing loss, however, noise-induced hearing loss can occur in one ear only. The patient typically loses the hearing around the frequency of the triggering noise that caused the damage.
Are there different types of tinnitus?
There are two kinds of tinnitus:
- Subjective tinnitus — Only you can hear this type of tinnitus. This is the most common form. Subjective tinnitus can be caused by problems with any part of your ear (inner, outer, or middle ear). Or it can be a result of problems with your auditory nerves or the part of your brain that interprets nerve signals, the auditory pathways.
- Objective tinnitus — This form is rare. A doctor can actually hear the sound when he or she is examining your ears. Objective tinnitus is caused by a middle ear bone condition, a problem with a blood vessel, or muscle contractions.
How is tinnitus diagnosed?
When diagnosing tinnitus at The ENT & Allergy Centers of Texas in McKinney, TX, we examine your ears, head, and neck. These are some standard tests we use:
- Hearing exam — In a hearing exam, you are placed in a soundproof room and are wearing headphones. Specific sounds are piped into the headphones, but only through one ear at a time. You’ll signal when you can hear the sound and your results are compared to what is considered the normal range for your age.
- Movement — We may use movement of your eyes, neck, arms, and legs. We may ask you to clench your teeth. If these movements cause your tinnitus to change that helps identify an underlying disorder that is causing your tinnitus.
- Imaging tests — If certain conditions are suspected, we may order CT or MRI scans.
Different sounds for different causes
We’ll ask you the type of sounds you are hearing, as these can point to an underlying cause.
- High-pitched ringing — If you’ve attended a loud rock concert or were working with loud machinery such as a chainsaw, this can cause tinnitus that often goes away in a few hours. The same is true after a blow to the ear, say while wrestling. However, if there is hearing loss, the tinnitus may be permanent. Long-term exposure to noise, age-related hearing loss, and certain medications can all cause high-pitched ringing in both ears.
- Low-pitched ringing — Conditions such as Meniere’s disease can cause low-pitched ringing in just one ear. If you have vertigo, your tinnitus can become very loud right before or during an attack.
- Rushing or humming — These sounds are usually related to vascular causes, such as hearing the blood flow through veins or arteries. They can get louder sometimes when you exercise. They can also occur when you lie down or stand up relatively quickly. Pulsatile tinnitus should be evaluated by an ENT doctor.
- Clicking — Muscle contractions in and around your ear can cause sharp clicking sounds that you hear in bursts. These can be just a few seconds or can last a few minutes.
- Heartbeat — Cardiovascular problems (including high blood pressure), an aneurysm or tumor, or an issue with your Eustachian tube can amplify the sound of your heartbeat in your ears.
What can I do about my Tinnitus?
Avoid loud noise, this can make your tinnitus temporarily or permanently worse. Protect yourself from loud noise such as, loud music, power tools, chain saws, guns, and factory noises. When you are around these types of noises use earplugs or earmuffs. Avoid total silence, being in a quiet room may make your tinnitus more noticeable. To help with this, try being around low volume, pleasant sounds, such as music or nature sounds (especially water). Devices that produce sound include radios, CD players, tabletop fountains, sound generators, and electric fans. Lifestyle changes that might help:
- Reduce excessive use of caffeine, alcohol, salt, aspirin and nicotine
- Reduce stress as much as possible
- Get adequate sleep
- Keep your mind and body busy with meaningful activities
- Establish a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
Will a hearing aid benefit me?
Hearing aids can be helpful for patients with hearing loss and tinnitus, versus other causes such as earwax buildup or vascular issues with objective tinnitus. Studies have found that almost two thirds of tinnitus patients experienced at least some degree of relief when wearing hearing aids. Almost one fourth found “significant relief.” Hearing aids can be effective when dealing with tinnitus for several reasons:
- Masking the ringing — By augmenting the volume of external noise, hearing aids can basically cover the sound of the tinnitus. This allows the person to tune it out and not consciously perceive the tinnitus noise. This is especially true for patients who have hearing loss in the same frequency range as the sounds of their tinnitus.
- Improved communication — When a person has loud tinnitus, it can be difficult to have a conversation (particularly where there is any other background noise, such as at a party), talk on the phone, watch television, listen to music, and other activities. Hearing aids augment the external volume of those activities above the volume of the tinnitus, enabling the person to participate and feel less frustration and less isolation.
What treatments do healthcare professionals provide?
A physician can often help if your tinnitus is causing sleep problems, anxiety, or depression. An ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician can check for any medical problems that may be causing your tinnitus. Check with your physician to find out if tinnitus is a side effect of your medication. Have your physician check your ears for earwax.
Some audiologists have been trained in tinnitus treatment. Two methods used by audiologist are masking and Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT). These methods focus on making tinnitus less of a problem. Sometimes hearing aids can be used to treat tinnitus.
Many psychological methods have been used to manage pain and reduce stress. These methods can be helpful in treating tinnitus. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy has been successful in treating pain. This method has been adapted to treat tinnitus.
Complementary and alternative providers
Many “complementary and alternative” methods have been suggested for tinnitus. These include vitamins and herbs, acupuncture, naturopathic treatment, hypnosis, and others.
Schedule a Consultation
For more information about our hearing center and hearing testing for tinnitus, call 972.984.1050 to schedule a consultation. The ENT & Allergy Centers of Texas serve McKinney, Plano, Allen and surrounding areas.