Definition: Hearing of sound in the absence of external sound.

Over 50 million Americans suffer from Tinnitus. Tinnitus is described as ringing in the ears or “head noises,” which occur without an external source of noise being present. It is not a disease but a sensation of sound that may be intermittent or continuous in one or both ears. In most cases of tinnitus, the sound is subjective meaning only the individual with the condition can hear the sound. There are some cases where the sound is objective, meaning the examiner can actually listen to the sound the patient is experiencing with a stethoscope or ear tube.

If a patient is experiencing symptoms of tinnitus, it is likely due to middle ear infection, muscle spasms of the middle ear, or otosclerosis. As you may remember from trivia games, the ear holds the smallest bones in the body, the malleus, incus, and stapes. Otosclerosis is abnormal growth of these bones causing the stapes not to move freely as it is meant to. Excess wax buildup or loose hair from the ear canal are also common causes of tinnitus. When wax buildup or a hair come in contact with the ear drum, the pressure can affect how the ear drum vibrates causing ringing in the ear.

Though not as common, tinnitus can be brought on by head trauma or lesions on or in the region of the hearing portion of the brain. These tumors are known as acoustic neuromas. Hypertension or high blood pressure, thyroid problems, depression, anxiety, muscle stress and fatigue, may also cause or exacerbate existing conditions of tinnitus.

Pulsatile tinnitus is form of tinnitus where a person can hear his or her own heartbeat or pulse. At times, the presence of pulsatile tinnitus may signal the presence of a vascular tumor in the general vicinity of the middle and inner ear.  When noting this type of tinnitus, it is advisable to consult a physician as soon as possible to rule out the presence of this type of vascular tumor.

Specific causes of tinnitus may be difficult to identify. Determination may require extensive testing including x-rays and other imaging studies, audiological tests, tests of balance function, and other laboratory work. Your doctor may suggest the following treatments if necessary:

  • Mindful meditation
  • Hearing aids
  • Cochlear implants or electrical stimulation
  • Cognitive therapy
  • Drug therapy
  • Sound therapy/tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
  • TMJ treatment

2016 American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. For more information, visit www.entnet.org or consult with your ENT Specialists physician.

Tips to lessen severity of Tinnitus

  • Avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises.
  • Treat High blood pressure.
  • Decrease intake of salt. Salt impairs blood circulation.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, and tobacco.
  • Exercise daily to improve circulation.
  • Get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.
  • Stop worrying about the noise. Recognize your head noise as an annoyance and learn to ignore it as much as possible.