Ringing in the ear, or tinnitus, is a widespread condition that affects an estimated 50 million Americans. Some people describe it as a hissing, roaring, whooshing or buzzing sound instead of ringing. It may be sporadic or constant, and is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease itself. There are many factors that can cause tinnitus.
What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is categorized as being either pulsatile or nonpulsatile.
People who suffer from pulsatile tinnitus report hearing the sound of their own pulse. It is caused by abnormal blood flow within the arteries of the neck or inside the ear, and is fairly rare. Possible causes include:
- Fluid in the middle ear.
- Ear infections.
- High blood pressure.
- Head and neck tumors.
- Blocked arteries.
Nonpulsatile tinnitus – ringing in the ears not accompanied by any type of rhythm – is considerably more common. It can be caused by a variety of conditions including:
- Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss).
- Noise exposure.
- Impacted earwax.
- Otosclerosis (stiffening of the bones in the middle ear).
- Meniere’s disease.
- TMJ disorders.
- Ototoxic medications.
- Thyroid conditions.
- Head or neck trauma.
- Acoustic neuromas.
Tinnitus is also classified as being either subjective (heard only by the patient) or objective (ringing can be heard by an impartial observer, such as a doctor). Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature.
How Is Tinnitus Treated?
Tinnitus can’t always be cured, but there are treatments that can provide significant relief. The approach taken depends on the underlying condition responsible for the ringing in your ears. Sometimes, simple steps like removing built-up earwax or switching to a new medication can markedly decrease symptoms.
Others benefit from acoustic stimulation therapy, designed stimulate the auditory pathways to “tune out” the ringing in your ears and provide significant relief or reduce it to where it is no longer bothersome.
There are multiple treatment signals that can be used, and you and your audiologist will determine together which treatment protocol works for you. Sometimes the treatments come in the form of hearing aids and sometimes in the form of other devices such as iPods or iPads. Treatment protocols are anywhere from three to eight months, it is not a quick solution.