Tinnitus is the name for head noises that are often described as ringing, buzzing, whistling, etc., and it is very common. Nearly 36 million Americans suffer from this discomfort. Tinnitus may come and go, or you may be aware of a continuous sound. It can vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal or whine, and you may hear it in one or both ears. When the ringing is constant, it can be annoying and distracting. More than seven million people are afflicted so severely that they cannot lead normal lives.
Can Other People Hear the Noise in My Ears?
Not usually, but rarely others are able to hear a certain type of tinnitus. This is called “objective tinnitus,” and it caused either by abnormalities in blood vessels around the outside of the ear or by muscle spasms, which may sound like clicks, crackling, or pulses (heart beats) inside the ear.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Most tinnitus comes from damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. The health of these nerve endings is important for acute hearing, and injury to them brings on hearing loss and often tinnitus. It is believed that as the acuity of hearing outside sounds decreases, the brain becomes attuned to the sounds produced by your own inner ear, and this is the sound perceived as tinnitus.
If you are older, advancing age is generally accompanied by a certain amount of hearing nerve impairment and tinnitus. If you are younger, exposure to loud noise is probably the leading cause of tinnitus, and often damages hearing as well.
There are many causes for “subjective tinnitus,” the noise only you can hear. Some causes are not serious (a small plug of wax in the ear canal might cause temporary tinnitus). Tinnitus can also be a symptom of stiffening of the middle ear bones (otosclerosis) or other inner ear disorders such as Ménière’s disease.
Tinnitus may also be caused by allergy, blood circulation problems, a tumor, diabetes, thyroid problems, injury to the head or neck, and a variety of other causes. Certain medications such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants, and aspirin can cause tinnitus. If you take medicine and your ears ring, talk to your doctor about altering the dosage in relation to your size.
Treatment will be quite different in each case of tinnitus. It is important to investigate the cause of your tinnitus so that the best treatment can be determined. Audiometric testing, tinnitus matching, and imaging may all be needed.
In most cases, there is no specific cause identified, and therefore no specific treatment for ear and head noise. Tinnitus treatment, then, is directed at the patient’s understanding of the situation and the use of medications and other treatment measures on a trial basis.
Once you have had a thorough evaluation of your hearing and tinnitus, Dr. Chandrasekhar will explain the findings and help you understand the cause of your head noise. This is the first and most important battle in the war to control your tinnitus.
The following list of DOs and DON’Ts can help lessen the severity of tinnitus:
- Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, and tobacco.
- Avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises.
- Get your blood pressure checked and under control.
- Decrease your intake of salt. Salt impairs blood circulation.
- Increase hydration (water intake)
- Exercise daily to improve your circulation.
- Get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.
- Stop worrying about the noise. Recognize your head noise as an annoyance and learn to ignore it as much as possible.
Concentration and relaxation exercises can help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body. The increased relaxation and circulation achieved by these exercises can reduce the intensity of tinnitus in some patients.
Masking: Tinnitus is usually more bothersome in quiet surroundings. A competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock, pleasant music, or radio static (white noise), may mask the tinnitus and make it less noticeable. Products that generate white noise are also available through catalogs and specialty stores.
Hearing Aids: If you have a hearing loss, a hearing aid(s) may reduce head noise while you are wearing it and sometimes cause it to go away temporarily. It is important not to set the hearing aid at excessively loud levels, as this can worsen the tinnitus in some cases. A thorough trial before purchase of a hearing aid is advisable if your primary purpose is the relief of tinnitus.
Tinnitus maskers can be combined within hearing aids. They emit a competitive but pleasant sound that can distract you from head noise. Some people find that a tinnitus masker may even suppress the head noise for several hours after it is used, but this is not true for all users.
Tinnitus Reducing Devices:
Tinnitus Retraining Therapy is a 2 year long, labor-intensive treatment that uses maskers and cognitive counseling to help severe tinnitus sufferers. New York Otology and Advanced Hearing Technologies are one of a very few sites offering the Neuromonics ™ device for tinnitus treatment. This is a much less laborious personalized tinnitus matching and treatment device that delivers competing sound to the ear, programmed to your tinnitus level, via a personal MP3 player.
(adapted from http://www.entlink.net/healthinfo/hearing/tinnitus.cfm)