Tinnitus (from the Latin tinnitus or “ringing”) is a condition characterized by ringing, hissing, or other noises that appear to be originating in the ear or head. Tinnitus is not normally a dangerous or serious problem. It is usually a symptom of some other underlying condition and most often considered a nuisance. Age-related hearing loss, foreign objects in the ear, ear injury, and circulatory system problems can cause the condition.
Tinnitus tends to improve with direct treatment or treatment of an underlying cause. Though it rarely progresses into a serious problem, the condition is linked to fatigue, sleep problems, concentration difficulty, stress, memory difficulties, depression, irritability and anxiety.
Who gets tinnitus?
Anyone can get tinnitus, but some people are more likely than others to develop the condition. This includes men, white people, adults over 65, and those with age-related hearing loss. People who have been exposed to loud noises for extended periods of time and those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are known to have higher rates of tinnitus.
What are common causes? Tinnitus is a symptom of a variety of health conditions, blood vessel disorders, and effects from medications. The most common causes of tinnitus are age-related hearing loss, exposure to loud noises, earwax blockage in the ear canal, and abnormal bone growth in the ear. Less common causes include an inner ear disorder called Meniere’s disease, depression and stress, head or neck trauma/injury, and a benign tumor of the cranial nerve called acoustic neuroma.
What are the symptoms of tinnitus? Symptoms of tinnitus include hearing sounds when there is no external sound. You may sense ringing, buzzing, hissing, roaring, clicking, whistling, or squealing. Noises may vary in pitch and can distract you and upset your ability to concentrate.
How is tinnitus treated? If an underlying cause of the tinnitus is found, Dr. Riso will treat that condition and the tinnitus usually subsides. This may include removing earwax, treating blood vessel conditions, or changing medication regimens. In many cases, however, the underlying cause cannot be identified. There is no specific treatment for tinnitus, but Dr. Riso may suggest other methods of suppressing the sound. White noise machines, hearing aids, and masking devices, can be effective because of their ability to suppress sounds, making the tinnitus less annoying.
How can tinnitus be prevented? Some types of tinnitus may be avoided by following preventive measures. It’s not recommended to use cotton swabs to clean the ears (it pushes wax against the ear drum). Also, tinnitus can be prevented by wearing ear plugs at work (if there is excessive noise), at rock concerts, at sporting events, and while hunting, using a lawnmower, and blow drying hair. Maintaining good cardiovascular health by exercising regularly may reduce the chances of developing tinnitus linked to blood vessel disorders. Ask Dr. Riso about tinnitus if you think you may have symptoms.