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Tinnitus: Causes, Side Effects, and Treatment Options

You’ve tried turning up the television for “background” noise, speaking over the sound, and even plugging your ears. There’s no denying it: the ringing in your ears is definitely getting worse. Is there any way to get rid of this annoying buzzing once and for all?

If this sounds familiar, you are likely suffering from tinnitus—a persistent head noise suffered by over 45 million people in the United States

Tinnitus

Although tinnitus sufferers believe they are hearing sounds, there is no actual noise present. The condition is caused by an error in the way the brain processes sound, causing patients to think they are hearing a ringing, buzzing, hissing, whooshing, or clicking noise. Patients may perceive sounds in the one ear, both ears, or in the head. The sounds may come and go or be a constant irritation.

There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. In subjective tinnitus, only the patient is able to hear the head noises. Subjective tinnitus is by far the most common; more than 95 percent of patients are diagnosed with this form.

In objective tinnitus, a patient’s head noises are audible to others. This is usually caused by the perception of the patient’s heartbeat or blood flow as blood passes through the head and ears. This form of tinnitus is extremely rare.

A Summary of the Causes of Tinnitus

It is important to recognize that tinnitus is a symptom rather than a disease. There are many conditions that result in tinnitus, although some patients may develop tinnitus symptoms for no discernible reason. The most well-known causes of tinnitus include:

  • Hearing loss
  • Repeated exposure to loud noises
  • Ear and sinus infections
  • Diseases of the ear (such as Ménière’s disease), heart, or blood vessels
  • Brain tumors
  • Surgery performed on or near the ear
  • Thyroid abnormalities or other hormonal changes
  • Aging
  • Medication side effects

Types and Sites of Lesions Producing Tinnitus

Tinnitus is generally identified by the location of the lesion that is causing the symptoms. For example, patients can experience tinnitus due to a problem in the:

  • External auditory canal. Earwax or other foreign bodies can cause an obstruction in the entrance to the auditory canal, resulting in a “plugged” feeling in the ear and hearing distortion. Both hearing loss and tinnitus symptoms are usually resolved once the blockage is removed.
  • Vascular system. Tinnitus that is rhythmic may actually be the sound of the patient’s blood pumping through his body. Narrowing of blood vessels, tumors, other vascular malformations may be the cause of this type of tinnitus. Patients should undergo a full medical evaluation to determine the location of the vascular lesion, the likely cause, and potential surgical options.
  • Muscular system. Tinnitus that causes a clicking noise that can be heard by another person may be caused by muscle contractions in the middle ear. The tiny muscles attached to the middle ear bones normally contract in response to very loud noises, but may occasionally spasm for no apparent reason, causing a repetitive clicking sound. This type of tinnitus may subside without treatment, but occasionally requires muscle relaxants or surgery.
  • Opening movements of the Eustachian tube. This tinnitus results whenever a patient opens the Eustachian tube inside the ear, typically by swallowing or yawning. Patients can usually produce these sounds voluntarily, making it easier for hearing providers to determine the cause of the lesion.
  • Middle ear. A problem in the structures of the middle ear can result in tinnitus, such as ear infection and inflammation. Tinnitus is generally relieved when the middle ear abnormality is corrected by medication or surgery.
  • Cochlea. The cochlea is the most common origin site of tinnitus symptoms. The inner and outer hair cells are connected to the central auditory pathway by two systems. Nerve fibers carry information from the inner ear to the brain and back again, and any disturbance in these fibers affect how hearing information is perceived.
  • Auditory nerve. Tinnitus may occur when there is a problem with the hearing nerve itself. The auditory nerve contains thousands of tiny fibers to relay sound frequencies, volumes, and other auditory information to the brain. The nerve is also sensitive to vascular movements, and may be compressed by blood vessels, resulting in hearing loss, dizziness, and tinnitus symptoms.

Treatment of Tinnitus

Even when tinnitus is not a symptom of a serious health problem, it can still place overwhelming stress on the patient. Individuals may suffer from anxiety, depression, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, all leading to fatigue and loss of enjoyment of life. If tinnitus intrudes upon a person’s ability to think, hear, or sleep, he or she may consider the following treatments to ease tinnitus symptoms:

  • Hearing aids. Patients who have hearing loss along with tinnitus often benefit from hearing aid devices. As the hearing aid amplifies outside sound levels, the tinnitus is effectively drowned out by environmental noises.
  • Counseling. Hearing counseling programs are available to individuals whose tinnitus makes it difficult to hear, concentrate, or even sleep. The programs help you understand your condition, and develop exercises and relaxation techniques to help you learn how to live with your tinnitus.
  • Lifestyle changes. Some lifestyle factors increase tinnitus symptoms, such as smoking, stress, and improper rest. Medication changes, restricted coffee and tobacco use, and other adjustments may make tinnitus less noticeable.
  • Sound generators. If tabletop noise machines have been useful in the past, patients may benefit from electronic sound maskers that fit inside the patient’s ear. These give off a pleasant sound (such as rain or waves on a beach) at a slightly higher volume than the perceived tinnitus.
  • Anti-depressants. If tinnitus is causing you severe mental or emotional anguish, your doctor may recommend anti-anxiety medications or insomnia drugs to help you sleep.

Are you ready to dull the noise and get your life back? Call us at 866-517-4415 or stop by one of our Florida locations today to discuss your tinnitus symptoms with one of our hearing care providers.