Most people have experienced “ringing in their ears,” which is scientifically known as tinnitus. Find out more about what this means, and what can be done about it if it’s bothering you.
Tinnitus is hearing noise that isn’t really present. This is most commonly described as “ringing in the ears,” but there are a variety of ways it can sound. Tinnitus is a common symptom of age-related hearing loss, but can also have a variety of other causes.
In most cases, tinnitus is not a sign of a serious problem. However, it may be bothersome. Occasionally, tinnitus is a symptom of a more serious health condition. Your audiologist or primary doctor can evaluate your tinnitus and determine whether further testing may be needed to find the cause.
What does tinnitus sound like?
Tinnitus may sound like ringing. It may also sound like a whooshing or roaring sound, hissing, buzzing, or other similar sounds. In some cases, tinnitus is pulsatile, meaning that it varies with the heartbeat; in other cases, it is nonpulsatile and doesn’t vary in this way.
Tinnitus is different from auditory hallucinations, in which a person hears more complex sounds such as music or voices. Auditory hallucinations may be a symptom of a psychiatric disorder (such as schizophrenia) or a problem in certain parts of the brain. The causes of tinnitus are different.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus may be associated with hearing loss, including age-related hearing loss. Exposure to loud noises may lead to short-term tinnitus; if this continues, both hearing loss and long-term tinnitus are possible results. (Learn more about how to protect your hearing from sound-related damage.) Impacted earwax can lead to hearing loss and tinnitus. Tinnitus is sometimes associated with mechanical problems, such as problems in certain blood vessels or with the jaw joint (the TMJ, or temporomandibular joint), and can also be caused by damage to the acoustic nerves (for example, from a tumor). Some medications can also cause tinnitus. There are also a variety of other, rarer, causes.
Can tinnitus be treated?
The most effective way to treat tinnitus is to treat the underlying cause, if possible. For example, removing impacted earwax or changing medications could get rid of the problem.
Certain sounds can also be used to help suppress tinnitus. These are white noise-type sounds played at a low level, like the sound of a fan. Some hearing aids can deliver tinnitus suppression sounds. They can also be played on a white noise machine, or on a special tinnitus retraining device.
There are also certain medications that are sometimes used to help with tinnitus. However, these can have side effects, so you and your doctor will have to weigh whether the risk is worth the benefit in your case.
Tinnitus evaluation by an audiologist serving Paradise
If you’re having tinnitus, you may want to be evaluated by an audiologist to determine whether you have any associated hearing loss and what the problem may be. If you’re looking for an audiologist Dr. Deborah Touchette of Paradise Hearing & Balance Clinics would be happy to meet you. Please contact us to schedule your appointment. We look forward to seeing you!