Ask An Audiologist: What Is Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is described as any abnormal ear noise and can arise in the outer ear, the middle ear, the inner ear or the brain.  It is not a disorder in and of itself, but rather a symptom and may be perceived as ringing, buzzing or humming. Some people describe it as a “clicking” or “pulsing” sound.
 

tinnitus

Tinnitus is a “head noise” that has no apparent external source. Some experience it as a buzzing, whistling or ringing sound.

Usually it is a symptom of sensorineural hearing loss, and often the person experiencing it can tune it out, sleep normally and proceed with daily activities.  For a person with tinnitus, quiet is the enemy, and one is more likely to notice it while trying to sleep or first thing in the morning. In cases where the tinnitus is clicking or pulsing, it can arise from TMJ (temporomandibular joint disorder), multiple sclerosis, blood flow through the carotid artery, as well as vascular tumors.
 
Tinnitus is listed as a side effect of over 200 medications.  Decreasing salt and caffeine intake can help.  There are many over-the-counter medications sold for the relief of this head noise, but none have been approved by the FDA and some even have adverse side effects.
 
For those with bilateral tinnitus related to sensorineural hearing loss, most will notice relief or “masking” from the use of hearing instruments.  For severe cases, most hearing instruments have a masking element which can be turned on and used in tinnitus retraining therapy.
 
In patients who experience tinnitus unrelated to sensorineural hearing loss, a medical referral should be made for diagnosis and management of its effects on daily life, including depression and insomnia.

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