Tinnitus & Hyperacusis
What Is Tinnitus?
About 1 in 5 Americans has tinnitus (TINN-a-tus), which is described as a constant ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling or clicking in the ears. For 20 million Americans, it interferes with everyday life, and for 2 million Americans, it is a debilitating symptom of an underlying medical condition.
There are two types of tinnitus:
Subjective tinnitus: The more common form of tinnitus, this is when only you can hear the sounds.
Objective tinnitus: A rare form of tinnitus, this is when your physician can hear the sounds on close examination.
Tinnitus can be temporary, when caused by a wax buildup or sinus infection, or it can be permanent. About 90 percent of people with tinnitus also have hearing loss.
Tinnitus is more common in certain populations:
• Military personnel
• Motor sports and aviation enthusiasts
• Workers in loud environments
Symptoms of Tinnitus
The main symptom of tinnitus is the phantom sound it creates, which sufferers describe as ringing, buzzing, roaring, rushing, chirping, whistling, clicking or popping. In rare instances, tinnitus can sound like singing or music. Symptoms of tinnitus can come and go, or grow and shrink in intensity. For some people, the sound is only perceived in a quiet room. For others, the sound is so loud that it interferes with normal conversation.
Causes and Diagnoses of Tinnitus
In most cases, the cause of tinnitus is damage to the ear and auditory system. Temporary tinnitus can be caused by blockages in the middle ear, including:
• Congestion due to colds or allergies
• Excessive hair
• Foreign objects
Occasionally these items can damage the eardrum, causing permanent tinnitus.
Tinnitus can also be caused by medications, including certain:
• Quinine drugs
• Chemotherapy drugs
Tinnitus can be a symptom of a number of conditions, including:
• Age or noise-related hearing loss
• Eardrum injury from scuba diving, extreme air sports or explosions
• TMJ syndrome
• Auditory nerve damage
• Traumatic brain injury
• Acoustic neuroma
• Meniere disease
• Circulatory system disorder
• Thyroid disorders
• Muscle contractions in the ear canal
The type of sound associated with your tinnitus can help your physician determine its cause. Another technique is to examine how various movements impact the sound you hear.
Diagnostic tests include:
• Hearing test: A traditional hearing test is used to determine if you are experiencing hearing loss.
• Computed tomography (CT) scan: This test combines X-ray and computer technology to produce detailed cross-sectional images.
• Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan: This test creates detailed images using a large magnet, a computer and radiofrequencies. Unlike computed tomography (CT or CAT) scans or X-rays, MRI does not use radiation.
There is no cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments for its underlying causes. Even tinnitus that’s permanent can be treated with noise suppression techniques. Those techniques include:
• White noise from white noise machines and phone apps, fans and air conditioners
• Masking devices worn in the ear
• Hearing aids
Depending on the cause, other treatments for tinnitus include:
• Removing earwax, foreign objects or excessive hair
• Treating rhinitis and allergies
• Changing medications
• Treating TMJ syndrome
• Treating acoustic neuroma
• Treating circulatory system disorders
• Anti-anxiety medications
• Behavioral therapy and biofeedback
• Quitting smoking
• Avoiding loud sounds
"Butterflies are nature's angels.
They remind us what a gift it is to be alive."
- Robyn Nola