Tinnitus is a somewhat mysterious chronic condition affecting about 20 percent of American adults. Generally described as a ringing sound deep within one or both ears, tinnitus can be frustrating and even debilitating. Let’s look at the signs of tinnitus, its possible causes, and treatments offered by your ENT doctor.
Signs of Tinnitus
Tinnitus is a chronic or acute perception of sound in one or both ears. People with tinnitus usually hear sounds that no one else perceives–sounds such as ringing, static, buzzing, or humming. As such, most cases of tinnitus originate due to hearing loss or auditory processing disorders.
Only one percent of tinnitus noises can be heard by people other than the tinnitus patient. These sounds usually come from certain kinds of blood flow problems or structural movements within the body.
Causes of Tinnitus
While tinnitus can be very puzzling, there are commonalities among people who struggle with it. For many individuals, age seems to be a factor, and in fact, if you have tinnitus, you may expect it to worsen to some degree over time.
That being said, age is not the only factor in the development of tinnitus. Other possible causes are:
- Recurrent and frequent ear infections
- Blockage of the ear canal with wax (cerumen)
- Injury to the head and neck
- Inflammation of the Eustachian tube between the throat and the middle ear
- Meniere’s disease, an inner ear issue that causes hearing loss and vertigo
- Jaw joint dysfunction, such as catching and popping of the joint closest to the ear)
- Certain medications, such as corticosteroids, NSAIDs, cancer treatments, diuretics, and others
- Exposure to loud noises, including music and construction noise
- Cigarette smoking and overuse of alcohol
How You Can Get Treatment for Tinnitus
Start with keeping a log of your symptoms, including when tinnitus began, what it sounds like, and what may help relieve it. Then, speak with your primary care physician to rule out possible causes for tinnitus, such as TMJ (jaw joint problems), hypertension, or problems with the carotid arteries on the sides of the neck.
Your PCP may refer you to an experienced otolaryngologist, such as Dr. Scott William Franklin at Georgetown Ear, Nose & Throat Center. An ear, nose, and throat specialist (ENT) can investigate the interior structure of your ear, including the eardrum and small bones (ossicles), along with the vestibular, or balance, mechanisms in the ears.
Most otolaryngologists, including Dr. Franklin, work with hearing test professionals called audiologists. Audiologists, such as our own Abeda Mueed, test patients for hearing loss, balance issues, and tinnitus, and they prescribe hearing aids and other interventions to correct or minimize tinnitus.
Common treatments for tinnitus include:
- Using hearing protection, noise-canceling headphones earbuds, and hearing aids
- Ear wax removal
- Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and controlled breathing, to reduce stress and anxiety
- Taking anti-anxiety drugs or tricyclic antidepressants as prescribed
- Smoking cessation and limiting alcohol intake
- Using white noise machines, especially in the bedroom when going to sleep
- Getting sufficient quality sleep every night
Treatment for tinnitus and its underlying causes is highly individualized, but with the right treatment plan, patients can get relief from debilitating symptoms.
Georgetown Ear, Nose & Throat Center in Georgetown, Texas
Board-certified and fellowship-trained otolaryngologist, Dr. Scott William Franklin, heads the professional team at Georgetown Ear, Nose & Throat Center. We see many people who have symptoms of tinnitus, and we work with them to understand why it is happening and what can be done to manage it.