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What is Tinnitus?

02/05/2015

We thank Nina Atchley, AuD, for this blog post.

Suffering from tinnitus or “ringing” in the ears? You’re not alone! In 2013, it was estimated that 10% of the U.S. adult population experienced – that’s 25 million people![1]

So what causes tinnitus? It depends on the type: objective or subjective.

Objective Tinnitus

Objective tinnitus is measurable by an outside observer. Causes of objective tinnitus include the sound of blood pulsing through the body due to vascular issues, muscular contractions of the head and neck, as well as certain types of middle ear dysfunction.

Subjective Tinnitus

Subjective tinnitus is more common. Although it can’t be measured by an outside observer, it is very real. People describe many types of sound experiences with their tinnitus including roaring, rushing, and ringing. Many people report hearing “crickets.” There are even people who hear identifiable music!

Causes of Tinnitus

Although causes of subjective tinnitus can be more difficult to identify, there are medical conditions that can be responsible including but not limited to Meniere’s disease, heart disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, and certain types of tumors (although very rare).

Additional causes of subjective tinnitus range from noise exposure, hearing loss, different types of medications, excessive earwax, and middle ear fluid. Children and teens are vulnerable, too. In one recent study, nearly half of teens experienced ringing, roaring or buzzing in their ears. If you are experiencing tinnitus, it is important to see your physician to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Treatment

Once you have been cleared medically, explore with a hearing care professional (HCP) who is experienced in treating tinnitus. Your HCP has tools at her disposal including amplification (hearing aids), prescribed background noise (masker or noisier), and counseling to develop a treatment plan for your tinnitus. Work together with your HCP to learn how to manage your tinnitus—don’t let it manage you!

[1] http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/pages/quick.aspx#7 accessed 1/28/15

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