What Is Tinnitus?
Though the common misconception about tinnitus is that it’s a disease, tinnitus is actually a medical condition characterized by persistent ringing in one or both ears that can only be heard by the affected individual.
Many who suffer from tinnitus describe the annoying sound as ringing in the ear, but a whistling, hissing, buzzing, or pulsing sound is also possible. For some, these sounds come and go. But most are not that lucky, and will experience symptoms 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
These phantom sounds may cause only a slight annoyance, or they may severely disrupt everyday life. The American Tinnitus Association estimates more than 50 million Americans suffer from at least occasional bouts of tinnitus.
What Causes Tinnitus?
There are a number of causes, with the most common being exposure to loud noise for a prolonged period of time. In this case, your hearing may be temporarily or permanently damaged, depending upon the severity of the sound.
We can’t always tell whether your temporary damage will become permanent, but tinnitus is usually representative of an inner-ear problem. Tinnitus research is ongoing, and the mechanisms that cause tinnitus in the brain and inner ear are being more closely studied.
In rare cases, tinnitus may be caused by a blood vessel disorder, resulting in pulsatile tinnitus. This type of tinnitus may be caused by a head or neck tumor, a buildup of cholesterol in the circulatory system, high blood pressure, turbulent blood flow, or malformation of the capillaries surrounding the ear. The result is a tinnitus that sends out pulsing signals in conjunction with the flow of your heartbeat.
Is There a Cure?
There is currently no cure for tinnitus. We will work with you to identify potential causes for your specific symptoms, and there may be a way to reduce the impact of tinnitus on your daily life. In some instances, changes to your diet or medications may help with your symptoms. Relaxation methods, such as meditation, can also help alleviate the constant ringing in your ears.
Tinnitus can manifest as an acute symptom lasting just a few days, or a chronic or recurring symptom lasting weeks, months or years. It is often described as a ringing in the ears, but is also reported to sound like hissing, buzzing, roaring, sizzling, clicking or other noise.
If you’re one of the five percent of Americans suffering from tinnitus that is “moderately to significantly annoying,” it’s a great idea to visit a hearing specialist for an evaluation. Our top team of audiologists is equipped with many tools and strategies to help patients with tinnitus, but first we need to assess your condition.
What to Expect During a Tinnitus Evaluation
There are several goals we hope to accomplish when we evaluate a tinnitus patient:
- Identify the underlying cause of your tinnitus symptoms.
- Determine if your tinnitus is subjective or objective.
- Evaluate how your tinnitus is affecting your speech reception.
- Assess whether you’re experiencing hyperacusis (sound sensitivity).
- Pinpoint the frequency and loudness of the sound you’re hearing.
Tinnitus is a symptom of a wide range of health conditions, and it can occasionally point to a more serious problem that needs professional medical attention. This is why trying to identify a cause is important, even though it may not be possible.
Subjective tinnitus – meaning tinnitus only you can hear – is much more common and is often caused by ototoxic medications or one of many audiological, neurological, metabolic and psychological conditions. Objective tinnitus is much rarer and is often tied to underlying vascular or neurological problems.
If we can determine a diagnosis and address the condition causing your tinnitus, we may also be able to treat that condition and relieve your symptoms. If we can’t identify a specific cause of your tinnitus, we will recommend other treatment options.
During a tinnitus evaluation, an audiologist will administer:
- An in-depth written and verbal interview.
- A complete physical examination of your auditory system.
- A pure tone and ultra-high frequency audiometry test.
- Speech reception and word recognition tests.
- An otoacoustic emissions test.
- Additional tests, studies and evaluations.
What Are the Treatment Options for Tinnitus?
Diagnostic testing and an evaluation by an otologist will rule out possible medical factors that could be causing or contributing to your tinnitus. Because your tinnitus symptoms are personal and unique in nature, an in-depth evaluation will help us create a specialized treatment plan for you.
Although there isn’t a single cure for tinnitus, our doctors have the knowledge and experience to provide you with treatment methods that can help lessen the impact that tinnitus has on your life. In many cases, the distressing combination of tinnitus and hearing loss can be relieved with hearing aids.
The No. 1 treatment for tinnitus for those who also experience hearing loss is the use of a personal hearing system, which can improve your hearing and often reduce or eliminate your perception of tinnitus. There are a number of treatment options, including:
- Exposure to loud noise
- Certain medications
- Head trauma
- Eardrum blockage
- Jaw joint disorders
- Hearing loss
Masking: An electronic device called a masker may be worn to distract from the ringing sensation. Maskers fit in the ear similarly to hearing aids and produce low-level sounds. In addition, bedside sound generators and other devices can also help remove the perception of ringing.
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy:A therapeutic process in which we specialize, and has given relief to many of our patients. Our process is a combination of sound therapy and counseling, which alters the brain’s neural signals and weakens the perception of tinnitus, allowing you to live your daily life far more peacefully.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:A type of counseling that helps to change the body’s emotional reaction to tinnitus by altering negative thought patterns and helping to relieve stress.
Call Northwest Ear Institute at (503) 444-7676 for more information or to schedule an appointment.