Tinnitus, which affects nearly 50 million Americans, refers to the perception of an extra sound that is not generated by anything external to the body. It is commonly described as ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, or roaring. It can affect one or both ears, or simply be perceived as a “head noise” without a clear direction or origin. It may be continuous or intermittent, steady or pulsatile, low or high pitch, and may range in intensity from very soft to severely loud.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Some potentially serious causes of tinnitus exist, and your doctor may recommend specific testing if one of these causes is suspected. The vast majority of tinnitus cases, however, are thought to be related to some degree of damage to the delicate hair cells within the inner ear, which are responsible for hearing. This damage can occur as a result of the normal aging process, exposure to loud noise, exposure to toxins or certain medications, and other less common disorders.
How is Tinnitus Treated?
Tinnitus rarely goes away completely on its own. In about 25% of patients, tinnitus may actually get worse over time. In many patients, however, it becomes less bothersome with time. Unfortunately, there is no “magic bullet” or quick-fix for tinnitus, despite what many television advertisements may lead you to believe. There are several treatment options to help manage tinnitus, and a thorough evaluation by one of our audiologists or ENT physicians can help determine an appropriate treatment strategy for you.
Tinnitus, or a ringing, buzzing sound in the ear, is caused when the sound-sensitive cells within the cochlea are damaged. The most common form of tinnitus is subjective tinnitus in which only the sufferer can hear buzzing or ringing sounds. This type typically affects the outer, middle, or inner ear. The second type of tinnitus is classified as objective tinnitus and can be observed by a doctor during an examination. This relatively rare form of tinnitus is often caused by a blood vessel problem, muscle contractions, or a bone condition in the middle ear. The most common cause is a prolonged exposure to loud sounds, and up to 90% of individuals experience some degree of hearing loss.
Other Causes May Include:
- Earwax buildup
- Changes in the ear bones
- Prolonged exposure to loud noises
- Age related hearing loss
- Temporary hearing loss due to viruses, colds, and ear infections
Other Factors Which Increase Risk of Tinnitus:
- Certain medications including:
- Cancer medications
- Large quantities of Aspirin
- Quinine medications
- Gender (men are at higher risk of developing tinnitus)
- Cardiovascular disorders which affect blood flow such as high blood pressure and narrowed arteries
Some individuals experience additional symptoms in conjunction with tinnitus including:
- Sleeping difficulties
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating