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What is Tinnitus?

If you have tinnitus, you know it. A persistent ringing – or a number of other noises – in the ear. For some it is merely an annoyance. For others it can be a debilitating condition that touches on every part of their day and night. It can keep them from hearing properly, disrupt normal speech patterns, and even be painful. Sometimes it is in one ear, sometimes both, and sometimes it seems to be coming from inside of the skull.

Tinnitus Classifications

There are two primary classifications used to determine the severity of tinnitus. They are:

Subjective – The most common form of tinnitus, this is when the patient is the only one who can hear the noise that is disrupting their hearing. Usually this is caused by a malfunctioning of the nerves or pathways associated with the auditory system. The brain believes it is hearing certain sounds as electrical currents are fired off down those pathways, and so interprets them. However, they don’t exist.

Objective – Less common, an objective tinnitus actually exists. Vascular, muscle or inner ear issues create real sounds that can be heard by both the patient, and by the doctor who is examining them. In these cases the problem can often be corrected by treating the underlying cause.

Symptoms

Tinnitus is in reference to the sound in the ears or head, not the condition that might be causing it. In fact, you might say tinnitus is a symptom in and of itself. It manifests with the following sounds coming from in the ear or skull:

  • Ringing
  • Whooshing
  • Roaring
  • Beeping
  • Popping
  • Hissing
  • Buzzing
  • Sounds like moving water or waves

Causes

Pinpointing the cause of tinnitus isn’t always easy. Sometimes it is impossible, unless it has been associated with another condition. But you can narrow it down to the most common reasons, including:

  • Too much wax built up in the war canal
  • Damage caused by loud noises
  • Continuous exposure to loud noises
  • Infections of the ears or sinuses
  • Degeneration of hearing, such as through age
  • Ear conditions
  • Medications that include tinnitus as a potential side effect
  • Disorders such as cardiovascular, thyroid, blood pressure, or tumors
  • Jaw being misaligned

Managing Tinnitus

Don’t worry, you aren’t doomed to a life of complicated treatments or medical procedures. Most patients who suffer from tinnitus do so as a mild to moderate level. They find it easy to manage their condition, usually through small steps taken at home.

Environmental Sounds

Sometimes the best thing to do is drown out the sounds from the outside. A fan put on high, or a low volume radio, can really help you to lessen the tinnitus. Most patients do this when they sleep, to help overpower the sounds enough to get through the night.

Hearing Aids

Many hearing aids these days are built with maskers that attach to the frame of the device. This masks the sound of tinnitus by transmitting directly into the ear canal. It will also help to mask environmental noises that could make it difficult to zero in on things like speech or music, which are harder for those with hearing loss to pick up.

Biofeedback

There is something called biofeedback, a style of training where the patient learns to control other parts of the body to reduce tinnitus symptoms. Certain muscles are contracted and released, promoting relaxation and lessening sounds building up inside of the ears. This doesn’t always work, as often tinnitus can be caused by underlying conditions that are not stress related.

Rest

Some patients report that when they are tired, overworked or stressed out they experience worse symptoms. Therefore, sometimes resting and relaxing can be enough to manage tinnitus most of the time.

Medications

Many medications can cause tinnitus, for a number of reasons. They include some antibiotics, antidepressants, antiinflammatories, antihypertensive pills, heart disease medications, Parkinson’s medications, diuretic tablets, and some supplements, in particular niacin and Vitamin A.

Other medications may reduce the symptoms of tinnitus, either through stress management or treating underlying conditions. That is why it is crucial that you are examined by an audiologist who specializes in treating these issues. They will be able to point you in the direction of the right treatment (or combination of treatments) for you.

Find out more at HearingDoctors.net.

For tinnitus management, visit the American Tinnitus Association website for more information, ideas, and strategies at  www.ata.org