Approximately one in five people experience tinnitus at some point.
Tinnitus is a problem where someone perceives that they are hearing a ringing or noise in their ears. It is frustrating and not uncommon. Tinnitus is considered to be a symptom of a larger issue and not an actual condition of its own.
- Those experiencing tinnitus should not hesitate to talk to their doctor.
- It is important to understand what is causing tinnitus in order to determine which management methods might be the most effective.
There are two types of tinnitus. The first is referred to as subjective tinnitus and only the patient is able to hear it. It may occur due to issues in the middle, outer, or inner ear. In some cases, problems with the auditory nerves may also contribute. A second, yet rare type is called objective tinnitus. With this type, upon examination, the doctor can also hear it. This may result from certain middle ear bone, blood vessel, or muscle contraction problems.
The doctor may perform several tests to evaluate tinnitus. A hearing exam is commonly done to determine how good the patient’s hearing is. Patients might also be asked to perform certain movements to see if these movements cause their tinnitus to worsen, change, or improve. Imaging tests might be considered, such as MRI or CT scans.
The doctor will ask the patient about the sounds that they are hearing, since certain sounds are often associated with certain issues. These include:
- Clicking might indicate muscle contractions
- A heartbeat might indicate high blood pressure or an ear canal blockage
- Humming or rushing might indicate vascular issue
- High-pitched ringing might indicate a blow to the ear or long-term noise exposure
- Low-pitched ringing might indicate vertigo or Ménière’s disease
Management of Tinnitus
After the root cause is determined, the next step is to look for ways to manage tinnitus and lessen its impact on a patient’s well-being. One thing doctors look for is a build up of earwax. Removing earwax that is impacted can help to contribute to a lessening of tinnitus. The following can also aid patients in managing tinnitus:
- Using a white noise machine to help alleviate hearing the noises. These are ideal at night or when a patient is trying to concentrate.
- Masking devices are similar to hearing aids and are worn in the ear. They deliver white-level noise continuously to suppress tinnitus.
- Hearing aids might be recommended in certain cases, if the patient also has some hearing loss.
- Tinnitus retraining is another option. It essentially helps a patient to not focus on their tinnitus by providing tonal music that is individually programmed.
To prevent a worsening or future occurrence, the following can be beneficial:
- Limiting exposure to loud music and sounds
- When someone cannot avoid loud music or sounds, they should make sure to wear appropriate ear protection
- Exercise regularly and eat right to protect cardiovascular health