Tinnitus (Ringing in Your Ear)
Tinnitus is the perception of sound (i.e. ringing, whistling, buzzing, swooshing) that does not originate from an external sound source. It originates from the ear or the brain and may be acute or chronic. While it can range from a mild annoyance to a debilitating irritant, tinnitus is rarely a sign of a more serious condition. It is estimated that nearly 20 million Americans experience a form of tinnitus on a regular basis, and approximately 2 million suffer from severe, debilitating tinnitus.
Risk factors for tinnitus include, but are not limited to:
Age: As we age, we are more likely to suffer from any number of conditions listed above, and have fewer functioning nerve fibers in our ears which may cause hearing issues related to tinnitus.
Gender: Men are more likely to experience tinnitus than women.
Noise exposure: Sensory cells in our inner ears can be damaged due to loud noise exposure, and those working in noisy environments without hearing protection are at higher risk for experiencing tinnitus.
Smoking: Smoking increases your risk for developing tinnitus.
Cardiovascular conditions: Conditions like high blood pressure or reduced blood flow to the ear may result in a higher risk for developing tinnitus.
Exposure to ototoxic medications: Increased exposure to medications that list ototoxicity as a side effect increases the risk for experiencing tinnitus that may or may not continue after medication is halted.
There are two types of tinnitus: Objective and Subjective
Objective tinnitus describes ear or head noises that can be heard by others, and accounts for less than 1% of all cases. It is typically produced by internal body functions such as blood vessel disorders, muscle contractions, or bone conditions of the middle ear.
Subjective tinnitus is the primary type of tinnitus experienced, and describes ear or head noises that only the patient can hear. This type of tinnitus may originate from the ear or head, may be a physical or neurological response to hearing loss, caused by TBI or injury to the head, result from ingesting ototoxic medications, caused by various other medical conditions that range from mild to severe (sinus pressure and/or head congestion, excessive cerumen build up, metabolic disorders, autoimmune diseases, vestibular dysfunction, tumor-related growths, etc), or have an idiopathic reason for being.
Tinnitus resulting from a benign, remedial cause such as earwax build up or head congestion often resolves itself when the underlying cause is addressed and settled. However, tinnitus resulting from a more chronic condition like sensorineural hearing loss may be longstanding and can become debilitating over time. It is important to see your physician if you are experiencing tinnitus that has a sudden onset, is longstanding and has not been worked up, or becomes disabling, causing one or more of the following: fatigue, sleeplessness, stress, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, or pain.
Tinnitus Management and Therapy
There has been a long-held notion that there is nothing to be done for those suffering from tinnitus. This is not true. Managing the underlying health condition causing tinnitus, altering your lifestyle to reduce the impact of tinnitus, and eliminating triggers for tinnitus may all reduce the impact of tinnitus on your life. However, tinnitus cannot always be eliminated, and while there is no “cure,” there are a variety of management options for longstanding tinnitus. The Hearing and Balance Center of Austin is proud to offer different management options for those suffering from tinnitus. Please contact our office to schedule an appointment to discuss your tinnitus and decide the best course of action for you!
Statistics and data obtained from the American Tinnitus Association and Mayo Clinic.