Tinnitus is the perception of noise or ringing in the ears. The sound may also be described as roaring, buzzing, hissing, or clicking inside the head. The sounds may come and go, or they may be constant. The sounds may happen in one or both ears, and vary in pitch and volume (loudness).
The most common type of tinnitus is called subjective tinnitus—it’s tinnitus that only you can hear. The impact of this condition is real, however, affecting an estimated 1 out of every 5 people. Some people complain the sound is so loud it interferes with their ability to concentrate, sleep, or hear actual sounds.
Another type of tinnitus is called objective tinnitus, which your doctor can hear when performing an examination. This is a rare form of tinnitus caused by a blood vessel problem, a middle ear bone condition, or muscle contractions.
Tinnitus can occur due to a variety of causes, including:
- Damage to the nerve endings in the inner ear
- Stiffening of bones in the middle ear
- Advancing age
- Exposure to loud noises
- High or low blood pressure
- Thyroid problems
- Head or neck injury
- Reaction to certain medicines
- Earwax buildup
- Jaw misalignment
It’s important to know that although there is currently no known cure for tinnitus, the condition often can improve with treatment when the underlying is addressed. And the ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists at Cooper’s Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery offer a full range of therapies that can provide relief.
Risk Factors for Tinnitus
While anyone can experience tinnitus, these factors may increase your risk:
- Exposure to loud noise: Over time, exposure to loud noise can damage the tiny hair cells inside your ear that transmit sound to your brain. People who work in noisy settings — such as factory and construction workers, musicians, and soldiers — are especially at risk.
- Age: As you get older, the number of functioning nerve fibers in your ears decreases, which may cause hearing problems associated with tinnitus
- Smoking: People who smoke are at higher risk of developing tinnitus
- Male gender: Men are more likely to develop tinnitus
- Cardiovascular problems: Conditions that affect blood flow, such as high blood pressure or narrowed arteries (atherosclerosis), can increase the risk of tinnitus
Symptoms of Tinnitus
People with tinnitus will often complain of hearing these sounds in their head, even when there is no actual external sound:
How Tinnitus Is Diagnosed
To diagnose tinnitus, your healthcare provider will take a complete medical history and perform a physical exam. Your provider may request an audiological (hearing) evaluation to determine if hearing loss is also an issue. Depending on the suspected cause of the tinnitus, other tests may be needed.
How Tinnitus Is Treated
Currently, there is no known cure for tinnitus. However, these options have been shown to provide relief in certain people:
- Hearing aids: These may benefit some people with tinnitus who have hearing loss; using a hearing aid may make some sounds louder
- Cochlear implants: This option is for those who have tinnitus along with severe hearing loss
- Maskers: These provide help for some people by making tinnitus less noticeable: this small electronic device creates sound that may make the ringing or roaring seem softer
- Some medicines may ease tinnitus by addressing a problem related to the condition. Medicines may also improve mood or sleep.
- Certain medications can cause or worsen tinnitus, so avoiding them can help make the tinnitus go away. These medications include certain antibiotics, cancer drugs, diuretics, quinine medications, antidepressants, and high doses of aspirin.
- Tinnitus retraining therapy: This involves a combination of counseling and maskers. Otolaryngologists and audiologists can help you learn how to deal with the tinnitus.
- Counseling: A person with tinnitus may benefit from meeting with a counselor or support group
- Relaxation: This may provide relief for some people as stress may make tinnitus worse
Why Choose Us to Treat Tinnitus
The Division of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at Cooper University Health Care is staffed by fellowship-trained ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialists and skilled audiologists who have the expertise and compassion to help people deal with tinnitus, an often frustrating condition.
As part of South Jersey’s only tertiary-care, academic medical center, our otolaryngologists are on the leading edge of today’s most innovative therapies, making these advances to patients in the clinical setting.
To learn more about the services available in the Division of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery or to schedule an appointment, please call 856.342.3113