Did you know?
- Up to 90% of people with tinnitus have some level of noise-induced hearing loss.1
- 1 in 10 American adults have experienced tinnitus lasting at least five minutes in the past year.2
- Tinnitus is the leading service-related disability among U.S. veterans.3
People who experience tinnitus report ringing, buzzing, whistling, hissing, humming, and other types of noises. Tinnitus is a symptom of a disease. Many conditions can lead to tinnitus and symptoms can range from mild to severe. Tinnitus can impact one or both ears, and there is no universal cure for it. The most common source of tinnitus is exposure to music at high volume levels for a prolonged period. Medications, external ear infections, and head trauma can also cause tinnitus. Other possible causes of tinnitus may include:
- Age-related hearing loss
- Benign tumor of the cranial nerve
- Earwax build-up
- Abnormal bone growth in the ear
- Meniere’s disease
- Stress and depression
- Long-term aspirin use
Hearing Test: How Often?
There's not usually a quick fix for tinnitus, but it will often improve gradually over time. A number of treatments are available to help you cope.
If your tinnitus is caused by an underlying health condition, treating the condition will help stop or reduce the sounds you hear.
For example, if your tinnitus is caused by an earwax build-up, eardrops or ear irrigation may be used. Ear irrigation involves using a pressurised flow of water to remove the earwax.
Read more about how an earwax build-up is treated.
However, in many cases a cause for tinnitus can't be found, so treatments will be used to help you manage the problem on a daily basis. These are described below.
Tinnitus may resolve on its own or one can use a treatment that addresses the underlying condition. Depending on the circumstances, the following treatments may help tinnitus:
- Magnesium, zinc
- Vitamin B supplementation
- Homeopathic remedies
- Cranial-sacral therapy
- Hyperbaric oxygen
The Barriers To Tinnitus Care
There is a severe risk of having an undiagnosed hearing problem associated with tinnitus. Issues of this type can adversely affect one’s quality of life. So if tinnitus is such an aggravating condition and there are treatments available, why are people still putting it off? Research may provide the answer to this question with seven barriers that may be preventing care.
- Time is a factor. Excessive wait times in scheduling to see a specialist and shortage of practitioner time spent with each patient block adequate care for tinnitus.
- Quality and appropriateness of referrals are not clear pathways to appropriate care.
- Education and knowledge vary widely among practitioners.
- Health provider approach in the lack of interest some general practitioners have regarding tinnitus.
- Assessment variations among healthcare professionals are wide with some practitioners not using all of the available diagnostic tools.
- Lack of services is cited by hearing healthcare professionals who do not have the option to refer tinnitus patients to see a clinical psychologist.
- Ineffective treatment options dissatisfy many healthcare providers.
Causes of Tinnitus ?
A number of health conditions can cause or worsen tinnitus. In many cases, an exact cause is never found.
A common cause of tinnitus is inner ear cell damage. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers ear cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can "leak" random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
Other causes of tinnitus include other ear problems, chronic health conditions, and injuries or conditions that affect the nerves in your ear or the hearing center in your brain.
Other possible causes are:
- head and neck injuries
- ear infections
- a foreign object or earwax touching the eardrum
- eustachian tube (middle ear) problems
- temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorders
- stiffening of the middle ear bones
- traumatic brain injury
- cardiovascular diseases
Blood vessel disorders linked to tinnitus
In rare cases, tinnitus is caused by a blood vessel disorder. This type of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus. Causes include:
- Atherosclerosis. With age and buildup of cholesterol and other deposits, major blood vessels close to your middle and inner ear lose some of their elasticity — the ability to flex or expand slightly with each heartbeat. That causes blood flow to become more forceful, making it easier for your ear to detect the beats. You can generally hear this type of tinnitus in both ears.
- Head and neck tumors. A tumor that presses on blood vessels in your head or neck (vascular neoplasm) can cause tinnitus and other symptoms.
- High blood pressure. Hypertension and factors that increase blood pressure, such as stress, alcohol and caffeine, can make tinnitus more noticeable.
- Turbulent blood flow. Narrowing or kinking in a neck artery (carotid artery) or vein in your neck (jugular vein) can cause turbulent, irregular blood flow, leading to tinnitus.
- Malformation of capillaries. A condition called arteriovenous malformation (AVM), abnormal connections between arteries and veins, can result in tinnitus. This type of tinnitus generally occurs in only one ear.
How is tinnitus diagnosed?
Tinnitus can be difficult to diagnose, because in most cases only the patient can hear the sound or sounds. A rare type of tinnitus called pulsatile tinnitus, which is marked by pulsating sounds and is often linked to vascular problems, can be seen and/or heard by doctors using special equipment, including magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or angiography.
A primary care doctor will try to determine if the problem is being caused by a medical condition or medication. He or she may send you to an otolaryngologist (also known as an ear, nose and throat [ENT] specialist), who will examine your head and neck area and thoroughly test for hearing loss that may be accompanying the tinnitus. He or she may give you a test such as a tympanogram, which measures the stiffness and functioning of the eardrum in the middle ear. Hearing tests are typically noninvasive and not painful.
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