Nearly 36 million Americans suffer from tinnitus or “head noises.” These noises may be an intermittent sound or an annoying continuous sound in one or both ears. Its pitch can range anywhere from a dull, low roar to a high-pitched squeal or whine. Prior to any intervention, it is important to undergo a thorough examination and evaluation by your otolaryngologist. An essential part of your treatment is understanding tinnitus and its causes.

What causes tinnitus?
How is tinnitus treated?
Can other people hear the noise in my ears?
What can help me cope?

What causes tinnitus?

Most tinnitus stems from damage to the microscopic endings of the hearing nerve in the inner ear. These nerve endings are important for hearing, and injury to them brings about hearing loss and often tinnitus. Exposure to loud noise is understood to be one of the leading causes of tinnitus and often damages hearing as well. Advancing age is often accompanied by some degree of hearing nerve impairment or tinnitus.

There are many causes of “subjective tinnitus,” the noise only you can hear. Some causes are not serious (a small plug of wax in the ear canal might cause temporary tinnitus). Tinnitus can also be a symptom of stiffening of the middle ear bones (otosclerosis).

Tinnitus can be caused by allergies, high or low blood pressure, a tumor, diabetes, thyroid dysfunction, an injury to the head or neck, medications — anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants, and aspirin — and a variety of other causes. If you take any of the listed medications and have ringing in the ears, speak to your physician right away.

Treatment for each case of tinnitus will vary. It is important to see an otolaryngologist to investigate the cause of your tinnitus so that the best treatment option can be determined.

How is tinnitus treated?

In most cases, there is no specific treatment for tinnitus but will vary on a case-by-case basis. If your otolaryngologist finds a specific cause of your tinnitus, he or she may be able to reduce or eliminate the noise. However, this determination may require extensive testing including x-rays, balance tests, and laboratory work. It is important to understand, though, that most causes cannot be identified. Occasionally, medicine may help reduce the noise..

Can other people hear the noise in my ears?

Generally, other people cannot hear the noises in your ears. However, “objective tinnitus” can sometimes be faintly heard by others. Objective tinnitus is caused by abnormalities in blood vessels around the outside of the ear or by muscle spasms, which may be heard as clicks or crackling inside the middle ear.

The following list can help lessen the severity of tinnitus:

Avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises.
Get your blood pressure checked. If it is high, get your doctor’s help to control it.
Decrease your intake of salt. Salt impedes blood circulation.
Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, and tobacco.
Exercise daily to improve your circulation.
Get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.

What can help me cope?

Concentration and relaxation exercises may help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body. Increased relaxation and circulation achieved by these exercises can reduce the intensity of tinnitus in some patients.
Drowning out the noise with a competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock or radio static (white noise), may make the tinnitus less noticeable.

Hearing aids may reduce head noise while you are wearing them and can sometimes cause it to go away temporarily. If you have a hearing loss, it is important not to set the hearing aid at excessively loud levels, as this can worsen the tinnitus. A thorough trial before purchase of a hearing aid is advisable if your primary purpose is the relief of tinnitus.

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Tinnitus maskers can be combined with hearing aids. They emit a competitive but pleasant sound that can distract you from head noise. Some people find that a tinnitus masker may even suppress the head noise for several hours after it is used, but this is not true for all users.

If you suffer from tinnitus or noises in your ears, contact the otolaryngologists at Alpine ENT to schedule your consultation today!