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Ear Exam

Tinnitus

Tinnitus

EAR CONDITION

Tinnitus is the perception of sound when no external sound is present. It can be described as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, chirping, whistling, or other sound in the ears or head.

Overview

It often presents as a ringing, buzzing, hissing, whistling, or humming sound, and it can be constant or intermittent. Tinnitus is a common condition that can vary in intensity and impact from person to person. It can affect one or both ears and may be temporary or chronic.

 

For some, tinnitus is a mild annoyance, while for others, it can be distressing and disruptive, affecting sleep, concentration, and emotional well-being.

Types

Although tinnitus is a very common condition, everyone’s tinnitus is slightly different.

  • Subjective Tinnitus. This is the most common type and is only heard by the person experiencing it. It can be caused by damage to the inner ear, auditory nerve, or brain pathways.

  • Objective Tinnitus. This is rare and can be heard by both the person with tinnitus and a healthcare provider. It's often caused by blood vessel issues, muscle contractions, or other physical factors.

  • Somatic Tinnitus. This is a type of tinnitus that is typically related to physical movement and touch. It can be generated by muscle spasms in the ear or neck and by other mechanical sources. 

  • Neurological Tinnitus. Usually caused by a disorder, such as Meniere’s disease, that primarily affects the brain’s auditory functions.

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Causes

Tinnitus is a very common condition, affecting an estimated 50 million adults in the United States. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Earwax buildup

  • Noise exposure

  • Head or neck injury

  • Ear infections

  • Meniere's disease

  • Certain medications

  • Temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder

  • Acoustic neuroma (a benign tumor of the nerve that connects the inner ear to the brain)

  • Age-related hearing loss

In some cases, the cause of tinnitus is unknown.

Treatment & Management

Since tinnitus itself is a symptom rather than a disease, addressing it often involves a combination of strategies to reduce its impact on daily life.

 

Treatment for tinnitus depends on whether your tinnitus is caused by an underlying health condition. If so, your doctor may be able to reduce your symptoms by treating the underlying cause.

 

Examples include:

 

  • Earwax removal. Removing an earwax blockage can decrease tinnitus symptoms.

  • Treating a blood vessel condition. Underlying blood vessel conditions may require medication, surgery, or another treatment to address the problem.

  • Hearing aids or Masking. If your tinnitus is caused by noise-induced or age-related hearing loss, using hearing aids may help improve your symptoms.

  • Changing your medication. If a medication you're taking appears to be the cause of tinnitus, your doctor may recommend stopping or reducing the drug or switching to a different medication.

 

Tinnitus is a complex condition with various potential causes and treatments. While there may not always be a cure, many people find relief through a combination of medical intervention, lifestyle adjustments, and coping strategies.

 

If you experience persistent tinnitus, seeking professional guidance can help you better understand the cause and explore appropriate management options.

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