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Conditions & Treatments > Ear & Balance > Tinnitus

 

 

Tinnitus

Background:

Tinnitus means noise or "ringing" in the ears.
Nearly 36 million Americans suffer from tinnitus.
More than 7 million people are afflicted so severely that they cannot lead normal lives.
Tinnitus may be intermittent or it may be continuous.


Causes of Tinnitus:

Most tinnitus comes from damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear.
Advancing age is generally accompanied by a certain amount of hearing nerve impairment and tinnitus.
If you are younger, exposure to loud noise (rock concerts, personal stereo with headphones, "boom boxes") is the most likely cause of tinnitus, and often damages hearing as well.

Infrequent causes of tinnitus:

  • Cerumen (ear wax).
  • Otosclerosis (calcium deposits around the stapes, or "stirrup" bone in the middle ear, or around the inner ear).
  • Allergy, high or low blood pressure), tumors, diabetes, thyroid problems, arthritis of the spine in the neck, or an injury to the head or neck.
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatory drugs, antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants, and aspirin.
  • Vascular tumors in the ear. If you hear your own heartbeat, you should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist for one of these.
  • Atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries".

Treatment for Tinnitus:

Treatment will be different for each case of tinnitus, depending upon the cause.
It is important to see an otolaryngologist (ENT doctor) to investigate the cause of your tinnitus so that the best treatment can be determined.
In most cases, there is no specific treatment for ear and head noise.
If your otolaryngologist finds a specific cause of your tinnitus, he or she may be able to eliminate the noise.
Extensive testing including X-rays, balance tests, and laboratory work may be necessary.
Finally, the precise cause of the tinnitus may not be determined.
Occasionally, medicine may help the noise. The medications used are varied, several may be tried to see if they help, and there may be significant side effects.

Self-help for Tinnitus:

The following can help lessen the severity of your tinnitus:
Avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises.
Get your blood pressure checked. If it is high, get your doctor's help to control it.
Decrease your intake of salt. Salt impairs blood circulation.
Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, chocolate, and tobacco.
Exercise daily to improve your circulation.
Get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.
Stop worrying about the noise. Recognize your head noise as an annoyance and learn to ignore it as much as possible.
Concentration and relaxation exercises can help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body and decrease the tinnitus in some patients.

Masking:

  • Tinnitus is usually more bothersome in quiet surroundings.
  • A competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock or radio static (white noise), may mask the tinnitus and make it less noticeable. Set the dial of an FM radio between two stations so that you hear static.
  • Products that generate white noise are also available through catalogs and specialty stores.
  • Hearing aids: If you have a hearing loss, hearing aids may reduce head noise while wearing them and sometimes cause it to go away temporarily.
  • Tinnitus maskers can be combined within hearing aids. They emit a competitive but pleasant sound that can distract you from head noise.

If you have tinnitus or head noise, it is extremely important that you have a thorough examination and evaluation by an otolaryngologist. An essential part of your treatment will be your understanding of tinnitus and its causes.