By Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D.
Tinnitus comes from the Latin word tinnire (to ring) and is a perception of sound for which there is no actual external source. It is typically described as a ringing in the ears, while some may describe sounds like humming, buzzing, whistling, whooshing, clicking, hissing, squealing, roaring, or murmuring in their ears. In ancient times those people who suffered from this condition were thought to be possessed by the devil or evil spirits and were often tortured in order to drive the spirits away. It is estimated that 30 million Americans experience tinnitus. For some of those 30 million, the tinnitus can be persistent and very troubling. The noise can be present during their every waking minute. Fortunately for most, it is a sound that comes and goes, or a tone that changes throughout the day. Some people experience tinnitus that is “on” for a few days and then “off” for one. For many it can be just a brief noise heard in the quiet of night right before bed, or perhaps heard for a while after being exposed to loud noises without wearing hearing protection.
Sometimes tinnitus can be a side effect of medication. Most often, tinnitus is a symptom of an ear problem, such as an outer ear problem. These outer ear problems can be as simple as ear wax, a hair or foreign object touching the eardrum or a perforated eardrum. More serious disorders can occur in the middle ear. Some of these include negative pressure from Eustachian tube dysfunction, fluid, infection, allergies or benign tumors. Problems of the inner ear, such as sensorineural hearing loss caused by noise exposure, an inner ear infection or Meniere’s disease which can often be accompanied by hearing loss and dizziness can cause tinnitus. High or low blood pressure, anemia, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, a growth on the jugular vein, acoustic tumors and head or neck aneurysms, trauma to the head or neck and jaw disorders are just a few of the non-auditory disorders that can cause tinnitus in some people. It is important that those who suffer from tinnitus visit their physician to rule out any of these disorders as the cause of their tinnitus.
At this time, there is no available cure for tinnitus. Many types of tinnitus can be managed with treatments that address the irritation it causes. Some of these treatments include noise generators, maskers and hearing aids. Many healthcare professionals believe that the best starting point for tinnitus relief is addressing hearing loss.
Researchers in France have examined the degree of hearing loss in tinnitus patients and how they experienced their tinnitus. The results were collated with the patients’ descriptions of their tinnitus so as to examine whether there was any connection between tinnitus and hearing loss. The results indicated that patients suffering from age or noise related hearing loss generally experience their tinnitus as a constant high pitched sound. Patients whose hearing loss was caused by Ménières disease or similar syndromes experienced their tinnitus as a varied and low hum. This indicates an association between tinnitus and hearing impairment. The frequency of the tinnitus noise as described by participants in the study was for the most part, directly related to the measured frequencies of their hearing loss. The loudness of their tinnitus corresponded to the degree of their hearing loss.1
If you are experiencing tinnitus that won’t go away, you should first consult with your doctor to rule out any medical disorders or side effects of medication as being the cause of your tinnitus. If these factors are ruled out as a cause for your tinnitus, you should then see an audiologist to have your hearing tested. Tinnitus may be a symptom of overall hearing loss. If you have a hearing loss, there is a good chance that a hearing aid will both relieve your tinnitus and also help you hear better. An audiologist can assist you with the selection, fitting, and purchase of the most appropriate hearing aids for you.
If you experience ringing in the ears, please contact our office at 941-474-8393 to schedule an appointment with Dr. Crosby for a thorough diagnostic evaluation of your hearing and a recommendation for a tinnitus treatment appropriate for you.
1 Characteristics of Tinnitus and Etiology of Associated Hearing Loss: A Study of 123 Patients, International Tinnitus Journal, 2002
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Dr. Noël Crosby, Au.D., owner and audiologist at Advanced Hearing Solutions in Englewood, FL is a licensed professional whose 26 year career has been devoted to helping people of all ages hear and understand more clearly. Dr. Crosby received her BS and MS degrees from FSU and her Doctorate in Audiology from UF. Her credibility as an authority grew during her tenure as the Director of Audiology at the Silverstein Institute in Sarasota, FL from 1991-1998. Today, in addition to managing a successful audiology practice, Dr. Crosby is involved in creating hearing loss awareness through her jewelry and accessory company AuDBling.com. She has served and is serving on various professional boards and committees and was president of the Florida Academy of Audiology in 2000 and 2010. She has been married to Michael for 23 years and has one daughter.