Tinnitus is a ringing, hissing, buzzing, humming or chirping sounds in your ear(s) that is not caused by an actual noise (i.e.- the noise doesn’t exist outside of your ears).
In some individuals, the noise is intermittent and in others constant and the loudness may vary as well. Many patients with tinnitus report that the sounds are loudest when in a quiet environment, especially when trying to sleep though others complain of tinnitus occurring throughout the day, regardless of the noise level around them.
Though tinnitus can be very annoying, it’s important to note that tinnitus isn’t a disease itself but is actually a symptom of an underlying disorder that may range from mild to more serious. That being said, it’s important that you’re evaluated by an ENT specialist to determine the cause of tinnitus and any potential underlying conditions contributing to it.
Causes of Tinnitus
Tinnitus may be cause by something as minor as ear wax or as serious as an inner ear tumor however the most common cause is damage to the hearing nerves in one or both ears. The damage may be due to any number of things such as loud noise exposure, certain medications, aging, high blood pressure and genetic factors among others.
The damaged nerves have also been shown to send errant signals up to the brain, leading to the perception of sounds that are not there – tinnitus. When enough nerves are damaged, the individual will also experience hearing loss. In the case of tinnitus in individuals with hearing loss, it’s believed that the brain may be attempting to “fill-in-the-blanks” that are left by hearing loss and that process may lead to the experience of tinnitus.
There are a number of other factors that may aggravate tinnitus in some individuals. These include: Caffeine consumption, alcohol consumption, salt, stress, poor sleep, certain antibiotics, certain cancer medications and antidepressants, high doses of aspirin, cardiovascular problems, smoking, exposure to loud sounds and so on. Because so many different factors may contribute to the cause of tinnitus, determining the exact cause of tinnitus in an individual can be difficult. Many individuals may also have one or more risk factors in their auditory and social histories.
An audiogram (hearing test) is usually done in conjunction with an ear, nose and throat exam. This test gives crucial information about the tinnitus and is done even if the person feels the hearing is normal. In some cases, more involved inner ear testing, blood tests, CT scans or MRI scans are needed for diagnosis. Sometimes the cause is not found but an ENT and Audiologist will evaluate your whole health, not just your hearing health to determine if there is a cause or a modification you can make to help reduce the noise.
Currently, there are no medications that cure tinnitus but there are some treatments depending on the cause. Treatment may be as simple as clearing wax from your ear or changing your medicines. In other circumstance, treatment may be difficult, especially in the case of a loud noise injury causing tinnitus.
For cases in which tinnitus is not treatable, certain masking techniques may hide it such as using a white noise generator or just a loud fan or background music. Even when not directly treatable, tinnitus in most people becomes less and less of an annoyance once it’s known not to be due to a serious underlying condition.
If you’re experiencing ringing or noises in your ears, the Ear, Nose and Throat specialists and Audiologists at Advanced Specialty Care can help determine why and suggest ways to reduce it. We have offices throughout Fairfield County, CT in the towns of Danbury, New Milford, Norwalk and Ridgefield.