Tinnitus (pronounced /ti-nahy-tuhs/) is the perception of sound within the ear when no corresponding external sound exists. It is a phenomenon that affects about 10% of the population, or up to 50 million people in the United States. It can take many different forms, including ringing, chirping, or clicking sounds. It can last several moments or hours at a time. Tinnitus is usually subjective, meaning it is only heard by the person affected.
There are many causes of tinnitus. It may be something as simple as earwax plugging your ear or could be a symptom of more serious middle ear problems such as infection, a hole in the eardrum, or an accumulation of fluid. It may also be caused by an allergy, high or low blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, a tumor, or injury to the head or neck. A variety of medications such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, sedatives/antidepressants, and aspirin may also cause tinnitus. When hearing loss is present, tinnitus is often simply a symptom of the damaged auditory system.
Tinnitus is usually more noticeable in silent or very quiet situations (such as at bedtime). The amount of attention paid to tinnitus can vary from person to person. Constant tinnitus can cause anxiety and stress for some people who experience it.
Tinnitus Treatment Options
For most patients, there is no known cure for tinnitus. However, relief (reduction in the perceived tinnitus) can be achieved through various treatment options. It is strongly recommended that you consult a hearing healthcare professional to determine a course of action that is right for you.
The goal of tinnitus treatment is always the same: to make it more difficult for the brain to detect the tinnitus signal. Ultimately, over time, less importance is assigned to the tinnitus, and relief is achieved. Many patients find using hearing aids can provide respite from tinnitus. The amplified sound from a hearing aid covers up the tinnitus and makes it less distracting. Fans, radios, sound machines, and televisions can also be used to mask the symptoms of tinnitus. When hearing aids are not of benefit, more intensive tinnitus treatment can be explored. Treatment usually involves two components:
- Counseling to better understand tinnitus
- Sound therapy where a tinnitus sound generator (TSG) is used to conceal the signal. Sound generators are hearing instrument-like devices that deliver constant sound to the ear, which over time can provide relief from perceived tinnitus. Some patients report immediate relief using a tinnitus sound generator or combination device. For others it takes time. Studies have shown it can take 3-12 months for complete tinnitus habituation (relief from perceived tinnitus) to occur.
If you or someone you know suffers from tinnitus, contact Ohio Head and Neck Surgeons to discuss your treatment options.