Tinnitus is the sensation of hearing a ringing in your ear when no noise is actually present. Since tinnitus is typically a symptom of an underlying condition or a side effect, it is quite common; almost 20% of the population reports some degree of tinnitus.
Hearing a ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking or hissing at various pitches can all be symptoms of tinnitus. These symptoms can be present all the time or can come and go. Most report this sensation in only one ear but it can affect both ears at once. Fatigue, sleep problems, memory problems, depression and anxiety are also symptoms of tinnitus.
There are two kinds of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective is the most common type; it is a ringing only you can hear. The second type of tinnitus is called objective, and occurs when your doctor can hear the ringing during an examination.
Inner ear damage is the most common cause of tinnitus. Inside the inner ear, there are small hairs. Sound waves cause these hairs to move; these movements send an electrical signal through the auditory nerve to your brain where it is interpreted as sound. If these hairs become damaged they can randomly send electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus. Age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noise and earwax blockage are all common conditions that cause inner ear damage.
Tinnitus is a common side effect of some disorders. Ménière’s disease is an inner ear disorder categorized by episodes of spinning (vertigo) and tinnitus. Temporomandibular joint and muscle disorders (TMJ disorders) or a head or neck injury can cause tinnitus. Acoustic neuroma, a noncancerous tumor that develops on the nerve that runs from your brain to your inner ear, can also cause tinnitus, usually only in one ear.
Blood vessel disorders have been known to cause tinnitus. Atherosclerosis is a condition that can cause the blood vessels near the ear to become rigid; this causes blood flow to be more forceful and as a result, you can hear it. High blood pressure, a head or neck tumor pressing on a blood vessel or irregular blood flow can cause tinnitus.
There are more than 200 drugs known to list tinnitus as a side effect. Fortunately, the symptoms will disappear when you stop using the drug. These drugs range from cancer medications to water pills, quinine medications, some antibiotics and certain antidepressants.
To diagnose the cause of your tinnitus, your doctor may perform a hearing test, a movement test or an imaging test. The hearing test requires you to sit in a soundproof booth while wearing headphones. Tones are played in each ear and you will be instructed to raise your hand each time you hear a sound. The movement test involves your doctor watching you clench your jaw and move your eyes, neck, arms and legs. An imaging test such as an MRI or a CT scan may also be required.
The treatment for your tinnitus is based on the underlying cause. Surgery may be required if the symptoms are due to a blood vessel condition. A change in medication is the treatment if a drug you have been taking is the cause. Simply removing a buildup of earwax may even work.
If the cause of the tinnitus cannot be cured, the next best thing is to try to make the ringing less bothersome. There are many types of tinnitus management solutions; our audiologist will review all of these options with you to decide the best course of action. White noise machines can help cover the noise, especially helpful while trying to fall asleep. Masking devices are worn in the ears like hearing aids and produce low-level white noise that drowns out the ringing. Hearing aids are helpful, especially if hearing loss accompanies the tinnitus symptoms. Programs that provide relief from the ear ringing can be added to many hearing aids..
We here at Central Florida Hearing Services understand how frustrating a disorder without a cure can be. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact us at (863) 386-9111 to schedule an appointment.