Is there a constant ringing, buzzing, or whistling sound in one or both of your ears? We are here to help you figure out what the noise is, why you have it, how to get it diagnosed, and what you can do to treat it.
What is Tinnitus?
Most commonly attributed to ringing in the ears, tinnitus can actually manifest itself in a variety of ways:
- High-frequency sounds
- Static or white noise
Other common ways tinnitus may manifest itself is by hearing:
- A buzzing noise in the back of the head
- Internal functions in the body’s circulatory system, such as blood flow, heartbeat, or musculo-skeletal movement
- Music (rare)
If you are experiencing tinnitus, the sound in your ears (or head) will be present 24 hours a day and is not a result of an external source or your own imagination.
Being in quiet surroundings (or when accompanied by varying degrees of hearing loss) may amplify the noise in your ears or head. This can cause difficulty with concentrating or falling asleep at night.
Alternatively, there may be pain or an uncomfortable feeling when surrounded by noise. This can cause frustration and anxiety.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of something affecting your hearing system, such as excessive ear wax (especially if it is touching the eardrum), a middle ear infection, muscle spasms inside the ear, otosclerosis (an overgrowth of bone in the inner ear), vestibular schwannoma (a benign tumor), or head trauma.
The most common cause for tinnitus is damage to or loss of the tiny sensory hair cells in your middle ear. This can result from noise damage, age, and medications such as aspirin, acetaminophen, diuretics, and antibiotics.
A number of non-auditory factors may worsen tinnitus. These include depression, anxiety, insomnia, muscular stress, fatigue, and TMJ (jaw pain).
How is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
If your tinnitus is persistent and problematic, it is very important to get a proper diagnosis in order to address what may be causing it.
The first step involves getting a thorough medical exam, including lab work and imaging. Doing so will help to identify any medical conditions that may be causing or contributing to tinnitus.
Then, an audiological evaluation should be administered by a professional audiologist or hearing specialist. The results will determine whether or not you have any hearing impairment.
These tests may include:
- Pure tone and speech audiometry
- Otoacoustic emissions
- Auditory brainstem responses
- Vestibular evoked myogenic potentials
Tinnitus test protocols will help determine the pitch and loudness of the noise in your ears along with how it interacts with external sound.
What Is the Treatment for Tinnitus?
While there isn’t a cure for tinnitus, treating your underlying condition, should there be one, will often reduce or remove the noises from your ear.
For example, if your tinnitus is connected to hearing loss, hearing aids or other sound amplification devices may provide relief by supplementing the volume of outside noise and increasing the amount of sound stimuli received and processed by your auditory system.
Other treatment options include:
- Wearing hearing protection such as ear muffs, ear plugs, or canal caps to protect from painful sounds
- Living a healthy lifestyle, including lowering your stress level
- Sound therapies in which external noise is used to counteract the perception and reaction to tinnitus
The constant noise and discomfort that accompany tinnitus can be very frustrating and agitating. If you are suffering, consult a professional to get you the best possible management outcome.