Have you ever experienced ringing in the ears?
Do you hear an intermittent sound or an annoying, continuous sound in one or both ears? Are you currently doing your own research to learn more about tinnitus (the medical term for ringing in the ears)?
Well you have come to the right place. The doctors and audiologists of Northeast Atlanta ENT (treating patients in Lawrenceville, as well as the Johns Creek and Suwanee area ) will talk about tinnitus, including prevention and treatment. So please keep reading!
What is Tinnitus?
The definition of tinnitus: “the subjective perception of sound by an individual, in the absence of external sounds.” It is not a disease. Rather tinnitus is a common symptom associated with the hearing system, and it is experienced by many people.
The inner ear is often the culprit for tinnitus. This symptom can actually get associated with different hearing system problems, so a proper evaluation and diagnosis from an ENT specialist is the first step.
What Causes Tinnitus?
Do you know that approximately 36 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, or head noises? If you have experienced this condition, you probably already know that the pitch can range from a low roar to a high squeal or whine. Yes, that can get annoying.
Tinnitus can be caused by:
different parts of the hearing system (i.e. the middle ear), as mentioned previously.
excessive ear wax, especially when the wax comes into contact with the ear drum. This can cause pressure and it can also change how the ear drum vibrates.
the loose hair within the ear canal. If the loose hair comes into contact with the ear drum, it can cause tinnitus.
Middle Ear Problems and Ringing in the Ears
As mentioned, middle ear problems can cause the tinnitus symptom. Middle ear infections can include:
a middle ear infection
the buildup of new bony tissue. This occurs around one of the middle ear bones. The buildup will stiffen the middle ear transmission system (otosclerosis).
muscle spasms. They can occur in either one of the two tiny muscles that are attached to the middle ear bones. During muscle spams, tinnitus may be intermittent. Other times, the ENT doctor can also hear the patient’s sounds during the physical examination.
When people subjectively say they have ringing in the ears, it is most commonly due to inner ear problems. When the inner ear becomes damaged, or during the loss of the tiny hair cells, tinnitus may occur. Oftentimes, the pitch that someone with tinnitus hears often coincides with the area of maximum hearing loss.
How to Prevent Tinnitus
While it may not always be possible to prevent tinnitus, there are a few things you can do to minimize your chances of tinnitus.
Avoid excessive noise exposure. Tinnitus can become the first symptom before hearing loss occurs. If you are constantly exposed to excessive noise over long periods of time, and you have tinnitus, call Northeast Atlanta ENT today for treatment. You may need hearing protection or other forms of treatment so your condition does not worsen.
Avoid certain medications that can lead to damaged inner ear hair cells or can cause tinnitus. Non-prescription drugs (i.e. aspirin) are the most common medications that can cause ringing in the ears and future hearing loss.
Keep an eye on your hearing as you age. The older you get, the higher the incidence of tinnitus. Hearing loss that is associated with aging is called presbycusis. It usually also involves the loss and damage of hair cells in the ear.
If you experience sounds like a person’s heartbeat or a pulse, see an ENT doctor right away. This is a special category of tinnitus called pulsatile tinnitus. It can sometimes indicate the presence of a vascular tumor in the middle and inner ear general areas.
Be cautious if you have a benign tumor near the hearing nerve. This can cause tinnitus. It is commonly referred to as acoustic neuroma or vestibular schwannoma. You may or may not experience hearing loss with this condition, but it is best to get evaluated right away.
Be cautious of your hearing if you experienced whiplash-type injuries or other traumatic injuries (either with or without skull fracture). Tinnitus may occur in these situations due to lesions near the hearing portion of the brain (called the auditory cortex). Meningiomas (benign tumors) which originate from the tissue that protects the brain may cause tinnitus.
Be extra cautious of developing tinnitus if you have these non-auditory conditions or partake in these lifestyle factors: high blood pressure, hypertension, chronic brain syndromes, thyroid problems, stress, fatigue, poor diet, lack of exercise, blood vessel problems, heart problems. These factors can increase your chances of experiencing ringing in the ears. Also, food or beverage allergies may cause tinnitus; however, these cases and conclusions are not well documented.
How to Treat Tinnitus
In a lot of tinnitus cases, there is no specific treatment for ringing in the ears. However, if your otolaryngologist pinpoints a specific cause for your ringing in the ears, there could potentially be a specific treatment to eliminate the noise.
The proper testing includes:
x-rays and other imaging studies
tests of balance function
In most cases, however, specific causes for tinnitus are hard to pinpoint. The causes are usually linked to sensory hearing loss. As far as treatment, there is no specific medication for tinnitus. There are some medications that may help reduce the noise, though.
Other times, tinnitus can potentially be treated with:
Amplification (hearing aids)
Alternative treatments (i.e. mindful meditation)
Electrical stimulation or cochlear implants
Sound therapy or tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT)
If your children have tinnitus, the best treatment and prevention method is to educate him or her regarding excessive noise exposure. It is also a good idea for parents and caregivers to monitor his or her exposure.
Ways to Cope With and Lessen the Effects of Ringing in the Ears
If you have been diagnosed with tinnitus, there are a few tips and strategies you can try. They may help decrease the severity of tinnitus.
Exercise on a daily basis in order to improve your body’s circulation.
Avoid caffeine (i.e. coffee, cola, tea, etc) and other stimulants (i.e. tobacco, etc).
Get plenty of sleep in order to avoid fatigue.
Limit your intake of salt (salt will impair your blood circulation).
When possible, get your blood pressure checked. If you have high blood pressure, seek a doctor’s help to control it.
As much as possible, avoid your exposure to loud noises and sounds.
Over time, learn to ignore it as much as possible. Sometimes tinnitus is nothing more than just a simple annoyance, and it is part of who you are.
Practice relaxation and concentration exercises as much as possible. These exercises will help control the muscle groups and your body’s circulation. This can also help to reduce the intensity of tinnitus.
When you notice the tinnitus noises, try masking the sound with a competing sound (such as a ticking clock, radio static, or white noise). This can help make tinnitus noise a bit less noticeable; when you are surrounding by a quiet environment, the tinnitus noises become more apparent. You can actually buy different products that will produce white noise.
If you have a hearing aid or if you need one, there is a possibility for a tinnitus masker to be combined within the hearing aid. This device can help to distract you from tinnitus noise for several hours (but this may not be true for all patients).
You can opt for a hearing aid to temporarily relieve the noises. If you already have a hearing aid, it is recommended not to set it at excessively loud levels (this can actually worsen the tinnitus in most cases). If your primary purpose of getting a hearing aid is to relieve your tinnitus, you should do a trial before the actual purchase of the hearing aid.
Can Other People Hear the Noises I’m Hearing?
Other people cannot typically hear the noises you are hearing. However there is a chance other people can hear the pulsatile tinnitus noises (also called “objective tinnitus”). Objective tinnitus can be caused by either:
muscle spasms. This tends to sound similar to crackling or clicking noises inside of the middle ear.
abnormalities in the blood vessels located near the outside of the ear.
How to Start Getting Treatment for Tinnitus
Before attempting your own treatment for tinnitus, we highly recommend scheduling your appointment with our otolaryngologist and audiologist at Northeast Atlanta ENT in Johns Creek/Suwanee or Lawrenceville. Feel free to call either of our locations nearest you to schedule an appointment.