What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus ("Tin-uh-tus") is the perception of sound inside your head when no outside sound is present. You may have heard people call it a “ringing” in the ears, but often people describe it as a high-pitch pure tone sound they hear. However, there are many other forms of tinnitus including buzzing, chirping, pulsing, hissing, static, and crackling- to name a few.
The type of sound one hears is not the only thing that varies when it comes to tinnitus. In fact, one of the most frustrating things about tinnitus is how different it is from one patient to the next.
Characteristics of Tinnitus
No two tinnitus experiences are alike. While having some form of tinnitus within a person’s lifetime is very common, everyone will experience it differently. Tinnitus ranges from being intermittent and infrequent to being present constantly throughout the day and night. It will also range in intensity from person to person. Some people will barely notice it, while others may have trouble focusing or sleeping due to the severity of their tinnitus. Furthermore, some people will only have tinnitus for a short time, while others will experience it for the rest of their life.
Reasons for Tinnitus
Tinnitus is not an illness, but rather a symptom of another condition or illness. Causes of tinnitus include:
- Hearing loss. This is the most common reason for tinnitus. When permanent hearing loss is the cause, the tinnitus is usually permanent, as well.
- A blockage in the ear. Blockages, such as ear wax, ear infections, etc, create a temporary hearing loss and can often result in tinnitus until the blockage is cleared.
- Sinus/allergy issues.
- TMJ or jaw issues.
- Tinnitus can also be caused/exacerbated by excess of certain things in your diet including:
- Stress/Anxiety (including lack of sleep)
- Certain drugs and medicines can cause tinnitus or make it worse.
- Some neural issues that may or may not be detectable can also cause tinnitus.
Will I ever know what is causing my tinnitus?
Through a thorough case history and review of your medications, it’s possible to sometimes determine the cause of someone’s tinnitus. Many times, the ENT or audiologist may be able to pinpoint a likely cause of your tinnitus. However, there is currently no test to determine a specific cause for tinnitus and, because of the mysterious and varied nature of tinnitus in general, there are many people who will never know for sure why they have tinnitus.
Is there any treatment to make tinnitus go away?
Like any symptom, the best treatment for tinnitus is to treat the cause of the tinnitus.
If your tinnitus is determined to be a symptom of hearing loss, the usual treatment is to treat the hearing loss through the use of hearing aids. For most, treating the hearing loss will improve the perception of the tinnitus.
For those without hearing loss, an ENT will attempt to find an underlying cause, like in the list above. If the ENT finds a cause that is treatable, treatment through medication, surgery, or other means may be recommended.
In the event that no underlying cause can be determined, there are several other evidenced-based options for relieving tinnitus that work for some people. These include tinnitus sound maskers, notch therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy/tinnitus retraining therapy, acupuncture, vitamin therapy, biofeedback, and hypnosis.
Your ENT and audiologist will be able to work together to recommend the best course of action for you.