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What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an abnormal perception of a sound reported by a patient but is unrelated to an external source of stimulation. Tinnitus is a very common disorder affecting over 50 million people in the United States. It may be intermittent, constant or fluctuant, mild or severe, and may vary from a low roaring sensation to a high pitched type of sound. It may or may not be associated with a hearing loss. It is also classified further into subjective tinnitus (a noise perceived by the patient alone) or objective (a noise perceived by the patient as well as by another listener). Subjective tinnitus is common; however, objective tinnitus is relatively uncommon. The location of tinnitus may be in the ear(s) and/or in the head.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is the term for the perception of sound when no external sound is present. It is often referred to as “ringing in the ears,” although some people hear hissing, roaring, whistling, chirping, or clicking. Tinnitus is not a disease but a symptom of another underlying condition – of the ear, the auditory nerve, or elsewhere. Tinnitus can be intermittent or constant, with single or multiple tones. Its perceived volume can range from very soft to extremely loud. 50 million Americans experience tinnitus to some degree. Of these, about 12 million have tinnitus which is severe enough to seek medical attention. Of those, about two million patients are so seriously debilitated by their tinnitus, that their day to day functioning is affected.
The exact cause (or causes) of tinnitus is not known in every case. There are, however, several likely factors which may cause tinnitus or make existing tinnitus worse: noise-induced hearing loss, wax build-up in the ear canal, certain medications, ear or sinus infections, age-related hearing loss, ear diseases and disorders, jaw misalignment, cardiovascular disease, certain types of tumors, thyroid disorders, head and neck trauma and many others. Of these factors, exposure to loud noises and hearing loss are the most common causes of tinnitus. Treating a hearing loss, either by medical management, if indicated, or with hearing aids, may offer relief of tinnitus. Other new and effective tinnitus treatments are also available. If you have tinnitus, a comprehensive hearing evaluation by an audiologist, and a medical evaluation by an otologist is recommended.
What Can I Do?
Tinnitus Treatment and Management
Generally, most patients will not need any medical treatment for their tinnitus. For patients who are greatly bothered by tinnitus, they may use some masking techniques such as listening to a fan or radio which would mask some of their tinnitus. In addition, other sound source generators can be obtained and be adjusted to sound-like environmental sounds and this is also effective in masking tinnitus. This generally is more advantageous if one is attempting to go to sleep. A tinnitus masker is utilized in some patients. It is a small electronic instrument built into a hearing aid case. It generates a noise which prevents the wearer from hearing his own head noise. It is based on the principle that most individuals with tinnitus can better tolerate outside noise than they can their own inner head noise.
Biofeedback training is effective in reducing the tinnitus in some patients. It consists of exercises in which the patient learns to control the various parts of the body and relax the muscles. When a patient is able to accomplish this type of relaxation, tinnitus generally subsides. Most patients have expressed that the biofeedback offers them better coping skills.
Other measures to control tinnitus include making every attempt to avoid anxiety, as this will increase your tinnitus. You should attempt to obtain adequate rest and avoid overfatigue because generally patients who are tired seem to notice their tinnitus more. The use of nerve stimulants is to be avoided. Therefore, excessive amounts of caffeine and smoking should be avoided. Tinnitus will not cause you to go deaf and statistically, 50 percent of patients may express that their tinnitus with time decreases or is hardly perceptible.
There are other medications which have been utilized to suppress tinnitus. Some patients benefit with these drugs and others do not. Each patient has an individual response to medication, and what may work for one patient may not work for another. Some of these medications have been proven, however, to decrease the intensity of the tinnitus and make it much less noticeable to the patient. There is, however, no drug anywhere which will remove tinnitus completely and forever. There are some drugs which will also cause tinnitus. If you have tinnitus and are on medication, you should discuss the symptom of tinnitus with your physician. In many instances, once the drug is discontinued the tinnitus will no longer be present.
Visit the American Tinnitus Association website for more information, ideas and strategies at www.ata.org