Tuning out tinnitus

Ringing, buzzing, chirping and humming.

No, I’m not describing things that fly. These are in fact common descriptions of sounds heard by patients suffering from tinnitus.

Tinnitus is the subjective (heard by the patient only) perception of sound in the absence of a sound source. Rarely, tinnitus can also be described as objective (heard by others as well).Tinnitus is an incredibly frustrating and distracting symptom caused by a multitude of causes, one that affects some 30 million Americans. Common sources of tinnitus include:

  • Hearing loss as a result of aging and/or genetics.
  • History of exposure to loud sounds (e.g., heavy machinery, firearms, and excessively loud music).
  • Trauma injury to the ear.
  • Medication side effect. Various over-the-counter and prescription medications report tinnitus as a side effect, including daily aspirin consumption. Tinnitus of this nature may be permanent or temporary, depending on the drug.
  • Ear wax. The presence of ear wax that significantly occludes the ear canals can result in temporary tinnitus. Always consult your physician before starting any at-home management of ear wax removal.
  • Vestibular schwannoma. Rare but possible cause of tinnitus often characterized by tinnitus in one ear, accompanied by hearing loss in the same ear. This is a non-cancerous mass, located on a nerve in the vestibular part of the inner ear, and may require surgery.
  • Unknown. Unfortunately there are often times when the cause of tinnitus is unknown.

As tinnitus is often a permanent side effect of various etiologies, the management and treatment of tinnitus depends on the cause. Some patients have found relief from tinnitus with retaining therapy and masking techniques. These techniques do not eliminate tinnitus, but instead work to help train your brain and limbic system to reduce its awareness of the tinnitus. Some patients find relief of symptoms after getting a hearing aide. New products and research is emerging suggesting that patients may also benefit from use of the dietary supplement called lipoflavonoid.

Although it can be incredibly frustrating, the presence of tinnitus is usually not a serious symptom. However, if you experience tinnitus that you consider to be bothersome, comes on suddenly or occurs only in one ear, consult a physician. Your physician may recommend a diagnostic audiometric evaluation to help explore possible causes and treatment options.

If you have questions about tinnitus or other hearing issues, the Hearing and Balance Center at University Health System can help.

Allyson Womack, AuD is an audiologist at University Health System

Photo by Geralt, pixabay

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