Oftentimes, the tinnitus sounds will subside when the cause is treated. For example, if your tinnitus is caused by a bacterial ear infection, antibiotics will clear it up.
If your tinnitus is due to long-term exposure to high decibel noises or permanent hearing loss, then you will need to seek professional treatment. The process of rewiring the brain to suppress the tinnitus will take some time, but it is possible.
What Causes Tinnitus?
If you have a ringing in your ears, your doctor will check to see what the underlying cause is. It is important to get a diagnosis because tinnitus can be a symptom of many different health problems. They may ask about your family history, perform a physical exam, and order blood work or imaging of the head and neck like an MRI. If you have a hearing loss, your provider may refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat) or an audiology specialist for a more in-depth examination and hearing test.
In most cases, tinnitus is caused by a problem with the auditory pathways or circuits in your brain. When these areas are damaged, your brain turns up the gain to try to detect the missing signals, resulting in the noise you perceive as tinnitus. These sounds can be high-pitched if the hearing loss is in the high range or low-pitched if the hearing loss is lower.
If the tinnitus is continuous and high-pitched, it usually indicates a permanent problem with the auditory pathways or circuits. This can be due to damage from exposure to loud noises, medications that have a side effect of affecting hearing (ototoxic drugs), or aging. It can also be a symptom of Meniere’s disease, a condition that affects the balance mechanism in your inner ear.
Pulsatile tinnitus is another serious medical issue that requires a professional evaluation. It can be caused by a blockage in the ear, such as impacted earwax or a growth, and it can also be caused by a change in pressure, like when you fly or dive. Your ENT specialist will examine your ears, look in your nose and mouth, and check your overall health to determine the cause of your tinnitus.
They will treat any underlying causes, such as treating a medication that is making the tinnitus worse, removing excess earwax, and dealing with conditions like high blood pressure or narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis). They can also teach you relaxation techniques to help ease your stress level, which can make your tinnitus more noticeable.
Most cases of tinnitus are temporary and resolve on their own, either because the tinnitus disappears or because you get used to it. Temporary tinnitus is often a result of a short-term event, such as exposure to loud noise or earwax build-up. It might be a ringing in your ears, or sounds like sizzling, buzzing, roaring, hissing, humming or musical notes. It may also sound like your heartbeat or other noises in your head, such as the whirring of a fan or wind blowing.
Tinnitus that lasts for a couple of weeks should be reviewed by your doctor, especially if it persists or gets worse. They can check your ears and conduct a hearing test to see if there is any underlying cause of what you’re hearing. This might include a simple test where they transmit sounds into your ear through headphones and ask you to raise your hand or respond in some way when you hear them. This will help determine what level of hearing loss you have and whether it is permanent or temporary.
Your doctor will treat any underlying condition causing your tinnitus. For example, they might switch medications that are causing it or remove excess earwax. They might even advise you to avoid certain foods and substances that are known to make tinnitus worse. They might also refer you to an ear nose and throat specialist, or an audiologist, for further investigation.
It’s important to seek professional help if your tinnitus doesn’t resolve on its own or worsens, as it can impact your quality of life and affect concentration. It can be distressing to have tinnitus that doesn’t go away, and it can lead to insomnia or depression.
It’s also worth remembering that not all tinnitus is subjective, meaning you’re the only one who can hear it. Many people hear the sound of their own heartbeat in their tinnitus, for instance. It’s a common phenomenon in older people, because blood flow tends to be more turbulent in arteries that have stiffened with age. In some cases, your clinician can hear it with a stethoscope.
For some people, tinnitus persists for months or even years. This is called chronic tinnitus, and it can be more difficult to cope with than temporary noises. If tinnitus doesn’t go away, see your doctor. He or she can rule out an underlying problem and give you advice on managing your symptoms.
Tinnitus is sound in your head that comes from no external source. It may sound like ringing, buzzing, chirping, hissing, roaring or humming. It can come from one or both ears, or it might be constant or intermittent, steady or pulsating.
Your GP can check your ears to see if your tinnitus is caused by something that they can easily treat, such as an infection or a build-up of earwax. They can also do some simple tests to see if you have any hearing loss.
If you have chronic tinnitus, your GP can refer you to an otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat [ENT] specialist) for further tests and treatment. He or she will examine your head and neck area, look for an underlying cause of the tinnitus, and carefully test your hearing for any loss.
Many people with chronic tinnitus can hear their own heartbeat inside their ear (pulsatile tinnitus). It’s often more noticeable at night, when there are fewer external sounds to mask it.
Muscle spasms in your inner ear can also make your tinnitus seem more prominent. These can be a symptom of Meniere’s disease, a disorder that affects your balance and hearing, or they can occur for no obvious reason. Other causes include problems with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), a condition that affects the jawbone’s movement, or brain tumors.
If your tinnitus is due to a blood vessel problem, such as high blood pressure or narrowing of the arteries (atherosclerosis), treating the problem should ease your tinnitus. Likewise, if your tinnitus seems to be caused by anxiety or stress, relaxation therapy or other treatments may help. For some people, tinnitus will improve by itself. This is sometimes the case after exposure to loud noises, but it can also happen for no apparent reason.
Treatment for Tinnitus
You can usually treat the cause of your tinnitus and that may help to reduce or mask the noises you hear. Tinnitus often happens when sound waves enter your ear and trigger electrical signals that your brain accepts and interprets as sounds. If you’re exposed to loud sounds over long periods of time, it can damage hair cells in the inner ear and trigger tinnitus. That’s why avoiding loud noises and wearing ear protection can improve your hearing.
Your tinnitus may also come from a head or neck injury or a blood vessel problem. If you’ve had such an injury, a consultation with your doctor should be your first step. He or she will perform an exam and order tests, including a hearing test and otoacoustic emissions (OAE), to determine the extent of the damage and how to proceed.
A head or neck injury can affect nerves, blood flow, and the movement of your jaw. This can lead to tinnitus and other symptoms, such as dizziness, balance issues, or a feeling of fullness in the ears.
Meniere’s disease is another condition that leads to tinnitus. It’s a disorder of the inner ear that can also affect balance and create debilitating vertigo along with tinnitus and a sensation of fullness in the ears. Typically, the noises associated with Meniere’s are pulsatile, meaning they follow your heartbeat.
Certain medications can also cause tinnitus, especially aspirin, several types of antibiotics, some antidepressants, and loop diuretics. Your doctor may recommend avoiding these drugs or trying alternatives that are less likely to have side effects.
For some people, antianxiety or tricyclic antidepressant medications can reduce the sounds of tinnitus by changing your nervous system and brain signals. However, these drugs are used off-label for tinnitus and may require prescription from your physician. Tinnitus can also be treated with hypnosis or cognitive behavioral therapy. These therapies are available from certified therapists and psychologists. These professionals can teach you relaxation techniques, such as meditation and mindfulness practices, that can ease stress. They can also help you find ways to cope with tinnitus and change your thinking patterns that may be contributing to it.
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