Wednesday Health Watch: Tinnitus

We get many inquiries about Tinnitus. We've attempted to answer the most common questions relating to causes, symptoms and management of Tinnitus in this post.

First, we'll start with how you say it (because that's one of the main questions we receive). There are two pronunciations, and both are correct. 

  • ti-NIGHT-us (typically used by patients)
  • TINN-a-tus (typically used by those in the medical field)

WHAT IS TINNITUS?

Tinnitus is commonly referred to as "ringing in the ears," although it can also manifest as whistling, buzzing, hissing, roaring, swooshing, clicking, and many other sounds. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, more than 50 million Americans, nearly 15% of the population, experience some form of Tinnitus. More than 90% of those experiencing Tinnitus also have hearing loss.

In general, there are two types of Tinnitus:

  1. Subjective Tinnitus: Noises perceived by the patient only. This type of Tinnitus primarily results from auditory and neurological reactions to hearing loss, but it can also be caused by other health conditions. More than 99% of cases reported are subjective.
  2. Objective Tinnitus: Noises that can be heard by the patient, as well as others. These noises typically are produced by blood flow or the body's musculoskeletal systems. 

CAUSES OF TINNITUS

Tinnitus is a symptom of an underlying health condition; it's not a health disorder. It can be temporary or ongoing and is usually a reaction in the brain to damage in the ear and auditory system. According to the American Tinnitus Association, there are approximately 200 health disorders that can cause Tinnitus. Here is a list of some of the most common:

  1. Hearing Loss - This is the most common cause of Tinnitus, whether it's age-related or noise-induced hearing loss. 
  2. Obstructions in the Outer and Middle Ear - Excessive ear wax, fluid, congestion, or foreign objects
  3. Head and Neck Trauma
  4. Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Disorder - Damage to the muscles, ligaments or cartilage of the TMJ, where the lower jaw connects to the skull in front of the ears
  5. Sinus Pressure
  6. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) - One of the major causes of Tinnitus among our military and veterans.
  7. Ototoxic Drugs, including Non-Steroid Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), certain antibiotics, cancer medications and diuretics. In some cases, stopping the medication will cause the Tinnitus symptoms to improve; however, this is a decision that must be made with a medical professional.
  8. Certain Medical Conditions, such as Hypo- and Hyperthyroidism, Anemia, Lyme's Disease, Fibromyalgia, High Blood Pressure, Depression, Anxiety and Ménière's Disease

SYMPTOMS OF TINNITUS

As indicated above, most people experience Subjective Tinnitus, meaning the sound is only perceived by the patient. The American Tinnitus Association has put together a list of sounds that we feel best conveys what we hear our patients describe. You can listen to these sounds here. (Be sure to turn down the volume to the right of each sound before you hit "play.")

TINNITUS MANAGEMENT

Unfortunately, there is currently no scientific cure for most types of Tinnitus. The best thing we can do for our patients is to help determine an underlying health disorder to treat. This could be as simple as removing excess earwax, treating an ear infection, or changing your medication. It could also mean testing your hearing, and if applicable, fitting you for hearing aids. Or, providing ear protection if you're constantly subjected to loud noises.

There are other "remedies," as well, including devices that play white noise or music to distract your brain and/or mask the Tinnitus. A Reader's Digest article, published in July, offers "14 Effective Remedies for Relief." 

If you think you are experiencing Tinnitus, please feel free to give us a call. We will be happy to consult with you and determine the next steps. 

Check out our tinnitus page!