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Tinnitus and Palatal Myoclonus: How Can You Tell the Difference?

You know what tinnitus is: a noise in the ears that never goes away, keeping you awake at night and distracted during the day. But after living with what you believed to be tinnitus for longer than you can remember, you’re starting to see other symptoms, such as a twitching in the muscles of your lips and tongue. Are these normal symptoms of a hearing disorder, or could you have been suffering from palatal myoclonus all along?

What Is Palatal Myoclonus?

Palatal myoclonus is a rhythmic contraction of the back of the roof of the mouth (called the soft palate). Also called palatal tremor, these contractions occur up to 150 times a minute, and can accompany other twitches in the muscles of the face, throat, or tongue.

Myoclonus is a sudden, uncontrollable contraction of a muscle (or a collection of muscles). The sudden contraction followed by a relaxation can cause a twitching or jerking effect. Hiccups are a form of myoclonus, as are the muscle spasms seen in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Myoclonus is not a disease in itself; it is a symptom of a larger condition.

While most people who have palatal myoclonus find it to be more irritating than debilitating, it can cause significant problems in a patient’s life. Patients who hear a popping or clicking sound in the ear due to palatal myoclonus may find it distracting—and like tinnitus, the condition can cause difficulty sleeping. For others, the condition can be uncomfortable, even painful, as the muscles in the soft palate contract.

Myoclonus can develop for many different reasons, such as head trauma, brain tumors, spinal cord injury, or stroke. It is commonly reported as a side effect of many nervous system disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and Alzheimer's disease, and is often seen in patients suffering from epilepsy.

Treatment for Palatal Myoclonus

Many of the drugs used to treat the condition are epilepsy medications, such as levetiracetam, phenytoin, and primidone, and are designed to prevent myoclonic seizures. Some of these anticonvulsants are barbiturates, which prevent muscle contractions through tranquilizing effects, which can also affect the alertness and cognitive function of myoclonus patients. Clonazepam, also known as Klonopin, is a tranquilizer often prescribed to control myoclonic seizures and anxiety disorders.

Since these drugs act on different pathways or mechanisms in the brain, patients may find that a combination of multiple drugs provides the most relief. However, even if anti-epileptic drugs are effective at controlling palatal myoclonus, these medications can have potentially harmful side effects. Phenytoin has been linked to liver failure and other conditions when taken long-term, while some patients on Klonopin experience severe fatigue and dizziness.

If you are hearing a persistent clicking sound in one or both of your ears, you should have the problem diagnosed as soon as possible. Call our toll-free number today or fill out the contact form on this page to schedule a hearing testing appointment with one of our Florida hearing care specialists.