Tinnitus, or “ringing of the ears,” is an auditory symptom experienced by millions that can develop from a vast number of causes – everything from inner-ear infections to the natural process of aging. Tinnitus is generally accompanied by some degree of hearing loss, often making tinnitus treatment a multi-faceted approach to hearing aid and therapy.
WHAT IS TINNITUS?
Tinnitus is best defined as any perception of sound within the ears or head for which there is no external source. While tinnitus is often experienced as a ring or tone of a repetitive frequency, it is not uncommon for persons to report cases of clicking, hissing, popping, or a variety of other such noises. Regardless of how these sounds might manifest for a particular individual, it is important to know that tinnitus itself does not cause auditory damage or hearing loss – it is a symptom, not a source. This does not change the fact that recurring tinnitus can be obtrusive, distracting, and even painful, nor does it mean that tinnitus should ever be ignored. Though tinnitus might present as result of a particularly loud environment, or as an effect of normal, age-related hearing loss, it can also be the product of a more serious disorder or infection, which makes consulting an audiologist or ENT the choice that is both safe and smart.
WHAT KINDS OF TINNITUS ARE THERE?
There are two main types of tinnitus that can be diagnosed: subjective tinnitus and objective tinnitus. Subjective tinnitus is the more common of the two, and is indicated by the internal “hearing” of a non-external sound. Subjective tinnitus is therefore identified based upon the patient’s experience and reports. In contrast, those individuals with objective tinnitus will actually project an audible sound from within their ears, which can be heard by the attending audiologist or physician. Objective tinnitus will often be further classified as pulsatile or vascular tinnitus, as it generally results from conditions of increased or intensified blood flow in and around the ear. The causes of subjective tinnitus are vastly more numerous, and can be as simple as an excessive and obstructive collection of wax, or as severe as thyroid disease or multiple sclerosis. Tinnitus can also present following an internal head injury or in reaction to certain antibiotics and medications, and while most of these more serious causes are extremely rare, it is always a good idea to have an expert examine any sudden or recurring problems with your hearing.
WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT MY TINNITUS?
The first and most important thing for any person suffering from tinnitus to do is to contact their local audiologist or ENT. Since tinnitus itself is a symptom and not a disease or disorder, it is important to consult with a doctor about any difficulties with your hearing which may point to larger problems. Though tinnitus itself is not dangerous, it may be the presentation of a more serious condition, and when it comes to your hearing, you can never be too safe. Depending on the particular case and individual experience, doctors and patients currently have a diverse selection of available treatment options which can be applied to help reduce and even eliminate the disruptions and discomfort of tinnitus in various ways.
Hearing aids are a popular method for addressing many cases of tinnitus, especially when it accompanies some amount of conductive hearing loss. Cochlear implants are a more intensive option, which can help to reduce tinnitus by stimulating the auditory nerve from within the ear. Medication, mineral preparations, and vitamins have also been successful at combating recurrent tinnitus in many patients. In addition, various forms of sound and cognitive therapies are available to sufferers, as well as the innovative “biofeedback method,” which focuses on helping individuals to gain greater control over functioning such as heart rate, breathing patterns, and muscle tension – through a program of relaxation and stress-combat techniques. These disparate approaches can be and have been effectively combined, but of course the most important component in any approach is the doctor-patient dialogue. Finding a good audiologist with whom you can be both open and comfortable is the most important step in your treatment.
WHERE CAN I FIND MORE INFORMATION ABOUT TINNITUS?
The American Tinnitus Association is a good source for general information and reports, but there is no substitute for a consultation with your audiologist, who is specifically trained to deal with these symptoms! Call 1-888-HEAR-CLEAR for help finding the best ear specialists in your area, get rid of the ringing, and protect your hearing!