Tinnitus is the medical term for phantom sounds in the ear or ears. That is, the patient perceives sounds when there is no external source. If you’ve ever lain awake in a very quiet room and heard a high-pitched ringing or whining sound, you’ve experienced tinnitus. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about this condition.
Q. WHAT CAUSES TINNITUS?
A. Some of the causes of tinnitus are the same as the causes of general hearing loss: infection, trauma, tumours, loud noises, and a build-up of earwax. Tinnitus can also be caused by misaligned jaws, thyroid disorders, fibromyalgia, and certain medications. Heart disease or high blood pressure, can also cause certain forms of tinnitus.
Q. I HEAR A PULSING SOUND INSTEAD OF A RINGING. IS THIS TINNITUS?
A. Yes. Tinnitus can be perceived in many forms, including hissing, clicking, roaring, and pulsing. The latter is known as pulsatile tinnitus. Though rare, it can usually be treated with medication. It occurs most often in patients with hypertension, heart murmur, or problems with the Eustachian tubes.
Q. IS THE NOISE LOUDER FOR SOME PEOPLE THAN FOR OTHERS?
A. Yes. Some people hear the sounds clearly, while others hear them faintly. Also, the sounds come and go for some sufferers, but remain constant for others. No two people experience tinnitus in exactly the same way.
Q. WILL EXPOSURE TO LOUD NOISES MAKE MY TINNITUS WORSE?
A. It can. If you suffer from tinnitus, you should avoid noisy events or wear protective earplugs. Some medications can also exacerbate tinnitus symptoms, as can alcohol, caffeine, nicotine, and stress.
Q. HOW IS TINNITUS TREATED?
A. That depends on the source of the problem. Sometimes a good ear cleaning will remove impacted wax or other foreign objects causing the tinnitus. If the tinnitus is caused by a misaligned jaw, TMJ treatment might be recommended by your dentist. Sound amplification through a hearing aid or cochlear implant can increase the volume of other sounds, effectively drowning out the tinnitus. Drug, sound, and cognitive therapies have also been used to treat tinnitus.
If you hear ringing or other sounds with no apparent cause, talk to your doctor to set up a hearing evaluation and discuss treatment options.
Dr. Cassandra Fynes is a skilled audiologist. She provides hearing aids and other hearing loss treatments.