Tinnitus (Ringing in Ears)

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Tinnitus is the term used to describe any kind of ear or head noise. Over 50 million individuals, one out of six people, report some kind of tinnitus. The most common forms are high pitch tones, ocean roar, seashell hiss, white noise, or a buzz. Tinnitus is almost always subjective, meaning that it can only heard by the person with the tinnitus. In rare instances, a muscle spasm can cause tinnitus, and this type of tinnitus can be heard by the physician as well as the individual.

Causes of Tinnitus

Tinnitus is not a disease in and of itself. It is just a symptom of some underlying disease or disorder, such as high blood pressure, heart problems, high cholesterol, diabetes, hypothyroid, food allergy, otosclerosis, Meniere’s disease, noise exposure, ear infections, impacted wax, or sinus problems. However, the cause of tinnitus can be due to a serious problem like a tumor or cancer. Therefore, it is important to have a thorough medical evaluation by an Ear, Nose & Throat (ENT) physician, who may order blood tests, hearing tests, and/or a MRI. A diagnostic hearing evaluation by an Audiologist is very important, since many disorders display a specific pattern that will aid the ENT physician in diagnosing the cause of the tinnitus. In some cases, the patient will have dizziness or balance problems in conjunction with tinnitus and/or hearing loss. Since the hearing mechanism and the balance mechanism are both located in the inner ear, the ENT physician may order balance tests as well.

After the medical evaluation, blood tests, hearing tests and imaging studies, ENT physicians will determine whether medication or surgery is required. Many times, if there is a substantial hearing loss, the solution is as simple as hearing aids. In addition, auditory stimulation by hearing aids may help to delay or prevent atrophy of the hearing nerve when the person has substantial hearing loss. Severe cases of tinnitus may require a combination of hearing aids, medication, vitamins, tinnitus maskers, tinnitus retraining therapy, and/or biofeedback therapy.

In summary, tinnitus is a common symptom that is caused by a wide variety of treatable medical conditions, and sometimes can be an indication of a serious medical problem.

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