Tinnitus is a ringing, swishing, humming, buzzing, or white noise sound that seems to be coming from the ear or head. Some people have explained the sound to be similar to the humming of a refrigerator motor. Sufferers may also experience a throbbing heartbeat generating from the ear.
This sound can be very annoying, but is not that serious. Tinnitus is not the usual noise that other people hear. For example, when people go into a soundproof booth they will experience the same kind of noise because all other noise from the outside world is muted out. The same phenomenon can occur late at night when all the noise of the day has subdued.
Tinnitus however is not this natural noise experienced by everyone. It is an annoying noise that is heard even when there is lots of other noise around that should drown it out. People who have tinnitus hear these noises in their ear or head at anytime of the day or night, in quiet and noisy places. These noises are not heard by other people.
Tinnitus is not a disease. It is a symptom of an underlying condition. More than 36 million people in the USA have had this condition sometime in their lives.
What causes tinnitus?
Tinnitus occurs in the inner ear, middle ear, or outer ear. Tinnitus can also be a result of a brain anomaly. Wax, liquid or foreign substances can impair normal hearing and intensify these sounds in the ear. Tinnitus can also be caused by infection or disease of the ear bone or tympanic membrane (eardrum).
Tinnitus is commonly caused as a result of nerve endings damage in the inner ear. Age is another contributing factor.
Age: The elderly often suffer from tinnitus.
Noises associated with loud music, drilling, gunfire, and the everyday noises in factories can trigger tinnitus.
Certain diseases such as Meniere’s syndrome can cause tinnitus.
Certain medications such as aspirin can trigger a flair up.
In rare circumstances, tinnitus can be a symptom of a brain aneurism or brain acoustic tumor.
How is tinnitus diagnosed?
Your physician will take note of your medical history and will need to assess the type of tinnitus you are experiencing. The physician first must determine if it is a constant, intermediate, or pulsating (heartbeat) form of tinnitus.
The doctor will also determine if the tinnitus is a result of hearing loss or vertigo (balance). If hearing loss is a factor, the doctor will require an audiogram (hearing test) to determine the extent of the damage.
In rare instances, a brain test that evaluates the hearing nerves and brain pathways called an auditory brain stem response may be ordered, and other imaging tests such as CT scan or MRI may be required.
How is tinnitus treated?
In most cases there is no treatment, the tinnitus goes away on its own. In other cases the sufferer may just have to live with tinnitus for the rest of their lives. Some doctors prescribe niacin but there is no proof that the medication is effective, and it may cause skin flushing.
However, education is an important part of the treatment. Sufferers must become aware of the factors which may have contributed to tinnitus and how to deal with it.