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Have you heard friends or family members complain about having a ringing, buzzing, swooshing, or other noises or sounds in their ears? If so, they may suffer from an issue called “tinnitus”. Some people pronounce it “TIN-uh-tiss” while others pronounce it “tih-NIGH-tuss”; either way is considered correct and acceptable. In the dictionary, tinnitus is described as “hearing ringing, buzzing, or other sounds without an external cause”. Most everyone experiences tinnitus occasionally, but some people hear it constantly in one or both ears. Sometimes it is so severe that it affects the person’s ability to hear speech or concentrate on other sounds.
Tinnitus falls into two different categories: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus occurs when a clinician or someone else can actually hear the actual sound occurring in the patient’s ear. Subjective tinnitus occurs when only the person suffering from the tinnitus can hear it; the clinician cannot hear it in the patient’s ear. Tinnitus can arise in four different areas of the hearing system: the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear, and the brain.
What causes tinnitus?
There are many, many, many causes of tinnitus. So many that it can be challenging to determine what is causing yours. Tinnitus can be caused by one of these conditions: hearing loss, exposure to loud noise, ear wax, otosclerosis, high blood pressure, Meniere’s Disease, stress, depression, TMJ/jaw disorders or problems, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, hormonal fluctuations, head injuries, neck injuries, arterial flow issues, and brain tumors, just to name a few. It can also be caused by the following medications: antibiotics, cancer medications and chemotherapy drugs, diuretics, quinine, chloroquine, and aspirin. Sometimes interactions between medications can cause tinnitus, too.
What can I do to control my tinnitus?
First, you and your primary care physician and/or hearing healthcare professional can try to narrow down the causes…because unless you can determine what is causing it and stop whatever the issue is, you will most likely not be able to control the tinnitus. For example, if you noticed that the tinnitus started around the same time you started taking a new medication, you may be able to pinpoint that was the trigger. However, you will need to weigh the options and the outcomes with your primary care physician to determine what will happen if you stop taking the medication to alleviate the tinnitus.
Second, if you cannot figure out what is causing your tinnitus, think about how it is affecting the quality of your life. Are you having trouble sleeping at night? Are you having trouble concentrating at work? Is it making you irritable or depressed? Taking this quiz will help evaluate where you are with this:
Some people are able to live with their tinnitus without many issues; some people are completely unable to function due to the severity of their tinnitus. Other options are to see an ENT or PCP for wax removal, or to treat a blood vessel condition if that is the cause. Surgery may also be an option in extreme cases.
The third option is noise suppression to distract you from the bothersome tinnitus. Many people find that using a white noise machine or radio or CD that produces environmental sounds can help you if you’re having trouble sleeping or concentrating. Another noise suppression option is to consider the use of hearing aids…especially if your tinnitus is caused by hearing loss. If you don’t have hearing loss, you can still wear a device similar to a hearing aid called a “masker”, which produces a continuous sound to suppress tinnitus symptoms. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy can also be done, which uses a device that programs tonal music to mask the specific frequencies of tinnitus, and over time it can accustom you to the tinnitus so it is less bothersome.
What about the ads I see on television or magazines that promise if I take a vitamin/pill, it will cure my tinnitus?
These are a waste of money. You are free to try anything you’d like, but nothing has been proven beyond a placebo effect that any of them work.
If you are struggling with tinnitus and feel that it’s affecting your quality of life, please see your PCP or schedule a hearing test today. Relief may be right around the corner and you will never know unless you try!
Until next time….