Tinnitus is the perception of a sound in your ears or head. This can often be described as ringing, buzzing, roaring, clicking or hissing. Tinnitus is not caused by an external sound and others around you cannot hear it. Roughly 25 million Americans suffer from tinnitus yearly.
Tinnitus is a symptom; it is not a disease. It is a symptom that something is wrong in the auditory system, which includes the ear, the auditory nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain, and the parts of the brain that process sound. The most common cause is sensorinaural hearing loss. Tinnitus is often the first sign of hearing loss. Many health conditions can cause or exacerbate tinnitus. Other common causes of tinnitus are:
- Noise-induced hearing loss
- Ear and sinus infections
- Diseases of the heart or blood vessels
- Meniere's disease
- Brain tumors
- Thyroid abnormality
To help identify the cause of your tinnitus, the doctor will likely ask you about your medical history and examine your ears, head and neck. Common tests include:
- Hearing (audiological) exam- During the test, you'll sit in a soundproof room wearing earphones that transmit specific sounds into one ear at a time. This can help rule out or identify possible causes of tinnitus.
- Imaging tests-Depending on the suspected cause of your tinnitus, you may need imaging tests such as CT or MRI scans.
- Lab tests- Blood draw to check for anemia, thyroid problems, heart disease or vitamin deficiencies might be recommended.
Treatment for tinnitus depends on the underlying cause for your tinnitus. Examples include:
- Earwax removal- removing a blockage can decrease tinnitus symptoms.
- Changing your medications- if a medication you're taking appears to be the cause of tinnitus, your doctor may recommend stopping or reducing the drug.
Hearing loss- if tinnitus is a result of hearing loss (noise induced or age-related) use of hearing aids may help improve your symptoms.
Personal Hearing Aids / Maskers - These are one of the most effective ways to help manage annoying tinnitus and are fit by an audiologist. Maskers are sounds that can help to cover or minimize the perception of the tinnitus.
- Hearing Aids Alone (no masking sound) - Hearing aids provide stimulation to the auditory pathway and this alone can be very beneficial in masking tinnitus.
- Hearing Aid Maskers - Special settings withing the hearing aid and that provide masking sounds in addition to the amplified sounds of the hearing aid, or masking sounds alone without amplification (for those with normal hearing).
Maskers and Home Masking Devices other than hearing aids
- Phone Apps
- Sound Machines - i.e. Sound Oasis "Bluetooth Tinnitus Therapy Sound" or Key Idea "White Noise Machine" (both available at Amazon along with many other options.)
- Sound pillow http://www.soundpillow.com
- TV Music channels
- House fan - An all-time classic for a reason. Simple white noise is very helpful for many people as a masking sound.
- Personal Hearing Aids / Maskers - These are one of the most effective ways to help manage annoying tinnitus and are fit by an audiologist. Maskers are sounds that can help to cover or minimize the perception of the tinnitus.
Counseling / Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / Relaxation Therapy / Stress Management - Some people who experience tinnitus need additional help to adapt and manage the tinnitus. This may take the form of relaxation therapy, stress management or more structured counseling or behavioral therapy with a trained psychologist.
Referral to a professional who specializes in tinnitus treatment. There are several recognized approaches which can be beneficial: Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), Mindfulness Based Tinnitus Stress Reduction (MBTSR), Tinnitus Activities Treatment. If you find the tinnitus to be stressful despite attempts at management, you should talk with the one of the physicians or audiologists at our office for a referral to a specialists in tinnitus treatment.