by Terrence P. Galvin, BC-H.I.S.
Tinnitus (TIN-i-tus) is the sensation of noise or ringing in the ears that is created within one’s own body. Tinnitus commonly affects about 1 in 5 people. It is not a disease. The Mayo Clinic describes tinnitus as not a condition itself – “it’s a symptom of an underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss, ear injury or a circulatory system disorder.” Although hearing loss is the most common cause of the symptom, other causes can be impacted wax against the eardrum, an ear infection, high blood pressure or a side effect of a past ear, head or neck injury. Certain ototoxic drugs can lead to tinnitus, including high intake of aspirin. Tinnitus sufferers typically describe the sound as “ringing in the ear(s)” or the “sound of crickets” although it has been described to me as chirping, low frequency humming like a running refrigerator motor, buzzing, hissing, roaring or a “continuous tone”. Although tinnitus itself is not serious, it can cause some people to become very anxious, depending upon the path it takes through the brain.
Tinnitus loudness can be measured in a laboratory. Some sufferers with very low volume “head noise” will find it necessary to seek help while others with much more intense “head noise” can get busy and are capable of ignoring the symptom. After an otoscopy, which is a visual examination of the ear to rule out impacted ear wax, I recommend to the tinnitus sufferer that he or she should always mention this symptom to their physician. The patient is encouraged to try and remember the time of first onslaught of the symptom and if eating or drinking, the taking of medications, exercise or any other change in their behavior lessens or increases the symptom; with this information the physician maybe able to diagnose the cause of the symptom and recommend treatment. My second recommendation is for the patient to obtain a comprehensive hearing exam as 70% of tinnitus sufferers that have a hearing loss and wear hearing aids get excellent relief from their tinnitus. Thirdly, try not to listen to the head noise. If this is not possible I recommend that the patient look into being fit with a customized sound stimulus designed to counterbalance the precise sound that you hear. Your hearing health professional can fine tune a device that is engineered to give you all day relief of your symptoms. The technology is available for both the hearing aid wearer and those not needing a hearing aid.