Tinnitus, pronounced tin-a-tus, is the personal perception of sound inside the head or ear. Most often it is described as a ringing, humming, buzzing, pulsing, whooshing, or a roaring sound. This sound may always be present or only intermittently, in one ear or both ears. It often occurs with hearing loss, but can occur without hearing loss. Definite causes are difficult to pinpoint, and possible triggers are still disputed by researchers. However, while the cause may elude us at present, there are still treatments with proven success!
Sound in the ears is quite a common complaint for normal hearing and hearing impaired persons. Most people can attest to have experiencing at the very least a mild episode of ringing. Even though those around you cannot hear this sound, that does not mean it is not real or a bother to you! Those who have been suffering more long term will testify that this 'sound' is burdensome and often much more than just annoying. For some, quiet activities, such as reading or computer work, may be most difficult due to the interruption of this sound. Others may find all daily activities difficult.
As for the cause, there are quite a few potential triggers, including: excessive noise exposure, loud noise exposure, sensorineural or mixed hearing loss, head and/or neck injuries, migraines, hypertension, anxiety, excessive ear wax or blockage, anemia, excessive caffeine and/or nicotine use, use of ototoxic medications (e.g., certain antibiotics, diuretics, high aspirin dosages, some cancer treatments), Meniere's disease, and certain kinds of tumors (e.g., acoustic neuroma, glomus tumors, etc.). * Note: While some medications have been found to trigger ringing, never discontinue use of a medication without speaking with your prescribing physician first. Worse side effects could occur with abrupt discontinuation.
While we cannot currently perform a surgery or prescribe a pill to stop the noise from existing, there are effective treatments for its symptoms. Your doctor or hearing healthcare professional can discuss your options with you. If another known medical condition might be related (e.g., Meniere's disease), this condition may be treated first to see if the sound stops. Simple at-home remedies may be prescribed. You may be asked to play soft music, leave a ceiling fan on, or purchase a sound generator to help “drown out” the sound or make the sound more tolerable.
If your issue might be related to hearing loss, hearing aids may help your hearing loss and your sound problems. For persons without hearing loss, there are “hearing aid – like” masking devices that play soft white noise or music can be used not only to “drown out” the sound, but to train the brain to ignore it altogether. Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT) may be provided in conjunction with a hearing aid or masking device. TRT programs slowly acclimate the patient to his/her “noise”. Consult your audiologist or physician if you begin to experience bothersome tinnitus. You'll be happy you did!
Austin Hearing Services was founded in 1999 by Margaret Hutchison. Dr. Hutchison has been an audiologist since 1983. She has done both clinical and research work. Margaret was awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Human Development and Communication Disorders from the University of Texas at Dallas in 1996.