What Is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a perception of a noise that seems to originate in the ear or head in the absence of an external source. It may be heard in one or both ears, sound as if it’s within or around the head, or be perceived as an outside distant noise. The sound may be constant or intermittent.
Tinnitus is usually a symptom of another condition and while it can be annoying, it is not usually a sign of a serious problem.
What Are Symptoms of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus involves the perception of sound in the absence of an external source for that sound.
The sound may be characterized as:
- A high-pitched steady tone (ringing)
- A pulsation that is rushing or humming
- Varying in intensity with exercise or changing of body position
Other symptoms that may accompany tinnitus include
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is usually a symptom of something wrong with the auditory (hearing) system. It may be a result of:
- Hearing loss
- Noise-induced, such as from machinery, gunfire, or loud music, or even a short blast of very loud noise
- Drugs induced
- Ear trauma
- Other health conditions
- Certain medications
- Ear and sinus infections
- Ménière’s disease
- Hormonal changes in women
- Thyroid abnormalities
How Is Tinnitus Diagnosed?
Tests used to diagnose the cause of tinnitus include:
- Physical exam to check the ear canal for earwax that may be blocking the ear canal
- Blood pressure may be taken
- Hearing tests, including audiogram or auditory brainstem response (ABR)
- Brain imaging
- Blood tests for hyperthyroidism
- Spinal tap to measure the fluid pressure in the skull and spinal cord (in rare cases)
What Is the Treatment for Tinnitus?
Treating tinnitus involves treating the underlying condition that is causing the tinnitus, as well as treating the tinnitus itself. There is no known cure for tinnitus, but depending on the cause, tinnitus might go away on its own.
Treatment of tinnitus includes:
- Treatment for hearing loss
- Hearing aids
- Cochlear implants
- Surgery to the outer or middle ear
- Stopping certain medications
- If medications cause the tinnitus, stopping the medication can improve the tinnitus
- Don’t stop taking any prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor
- Treatment for temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder
- Dental treatment
- Bite realignment
- Behavioral therapies to cope with tinnitus
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) involves retraining the brain to accept the sounds associated with tinnitus as normal, natural sounds rather than annoying sounds so patients become less aware of their tinnitus
- Masking devices resemble hearing aids and produce low-level sounds to help to reduce or eliminate the tinnitus noise
- White noise can also help mask tinnitus, such as a white noise machine, fan, radio on low volume
- Biofeedback and stress reduction
- Cognitive behavioral therapy teaches patients to manage psychological responses to tinnitus using coping strategies, distraction skills, and relaxation techniques
- Other therapies
- Depression that may accompany tinnitus
- Insomnia that may accompany tinnitus
What Are Complications of Tinnitus?
About one-quarter of tinnitus sufferers report increased tinnitus severity over time. Chronic tinnitus usually does not go away completely.