What is Tinnitus?

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What is Tinnitus?


The definition of the word tinnitus is “a tinkling or ringing like a bell.”  While that may sound lovely and musical, for people who deal with tinnitus, it is anything but.  Imagine being constantly aware of a sound in your ear when there is no sound.  That is a more accurate definition for tinnitus sufferers.

Tinnitus is diagnosed when someone hears sound without a source, but there are actually a variety of sounds that can occur with this condition.  The Mayo Clinic advises patients to use the following guide to determine which noise they are hearing to help their healthcare provider try to determine the root cause.

  • Clicking. Muscle contractions in and around your ear can cause sharp clicking sounds that you hear in bursts. They may last from several seconds to a few minutes.
  • Rushing or humming. Usually vascular in origin, you may notice sound fluctuations when you exercise or change positions, such as when you lie down or stand up.
  • Heartbeat. Blood vessel problems, such as high blood pressure, an aneurysm or a tumor, and blockage of the ear canal or eustachian tube can amplify the sound of your heartbeat in your ears (pulsatile tinnitus).
  • Low-pitched ringing. Conditions that can cause low-pitched ringing in one ear include Meniere’s disease. Tinnitus may become very loud before an attack of vertigo — a sense that you or your surroundings are spinning or moving.
  • High-pitched ringing. Exposure to a very loud noise or a blow to the ear can cause a high-pitched ringing or buzzing that usually goes away after a few hours. However, if there’s hearing loss as well, tinnitus may be permanent. Long-term noise exposure, age-related hearing loss or medications can cause a continuous, high-pitched ringing in both ears. Acoustic neuroma can cause continuous, high-pitched ringing in one ear.
  • Other sounds. Stiff inner ear bones (otosclerosis) can cause low-pitched tinnitus that may be continuous or may come and go. Earwax, foreign bodies or hairs in the ear canal can rub against the eardrum, causing a variety of sounds.

From:  http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/tinnitus

There are plenty of theories, across many areas of the body (auditory, circulatory, head/neck), about what causes tinnitus.  The most common causes are exposure to loud noises, age-related hearing loss, and earwax blockage.  Another possible cause of tinnitus is damage to the very delicate hair cells of the inner ear. These hair cells are absolutely crucial to hearing health because they react to sound waves and release electrical signals to be sent to the brain for processing.  Some doctors believe that the hair cells may release errant signals if damaged, resulting in unexplained and unwanted noises.  Damage to these miniscule cells is irreversible and can eventually lead to permanent hearing loss, so talk to your doctor about any early signs of hearing loss or tinnitus.

Treatment options for persistent tinnitus vary widely since the causes vary widely.  In some cases, ear wax removal or treatment of a circulatory issue can eliminate the noise once a doctor identifies the right underlying cause.  When the cause cannot be identified and corrected, treatment focuses on methods to suppress the unwanted sound like white noise machines or hearing aids.  Hearing aids can be programmed to block out tinnitus by producing background noise and have the added benefit of treating any hearing loss that may accompany tinnitus.

Schedule an appointment with us for a hearing health consultation or to discuss any unexplained noises impacting your hearing abilities or comfort.



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