Nearly 36 million Americans currently suffer from a condition known as tinnitus. The symptoms of tinnitus are typically described as ringing in the ears or “head noises.” These noises may be intermittent sounds or a constant 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 to identify possible causes that can be corrected. An essential part of your treatment is understanding tinnitus and its causes.

There are some things you can do to prevent the development of tinnitus or reduce the symptoms if you are already experiencing tinnitus.

  • Avoid exposure to loud sounds and noises.

    • Wear hearing protection if you must be exposed to loud noises, such as at work.
    • Keep personal sounds, such as headphones, to the comfortable minimum.
  • Get your blood pressure checked. Enlist the help of your doctor to control it.
  • Decrease your salt intake.
  • Avoid stimulants such as coffee, tea, cola, and tobacco.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Get adequate rest and avoid fatigue.

Frequently Asked Questions About Tinnitus

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 is the result of damage to the microscopic endings of hearing nerves in the inner ear. These nerve endings are important to hearing, and injury to them can cause a change in hearing, hearing loss, and often tinnitus. Exposure is widely recognized as one of the leading causes of tinnitus and often compromises the ability to hear as well. Advancing age is often accompanied by some degree of hearing nerve impairment or tinnitus, but is not a normal or expected part of aging and can be prevented.

There are many causes of “subjective tinnitus,” the noise only you can hear. Some causes are not serious, for instance, a small plug of wax in the ear canal can 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, or an injury to the head or neck. Some medications can cause tinnitus as an adverse reaction or when given in high doses too quickly; these medications are referred to as ototoxic. If you are taking anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, sedatives, antidepressants, diuretics, quinines, or blood thinners, especially aspirin and experience ringing in the ears, contact your physician immediately.

Sinus pressure caused by chronic severe congestion and other external causes of sinus pressure can cause temporary tinnitus or chronic tinnitus. Those who are subjected to extreme pressure such as divers, scuba divers, skydivers, and mountain climbers tend to have higher rates of tinnitus.

In childhood, high fevers can damage the inner ear and cause permanent damage in the developing ear.

Occupational causes are fairly common. Industries that expose employees to constant loud noises can cause acute or chronic damage to the ear. Some examples include military, construction, and factories or places with machinery that is constantly running — laundry, logging, and manufacturing plants.

Recently, traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and concussions have been linked to tinnitus. The TBI does not have to affect the ear canal, structures, or nerves, but an insult to the brain can affect the way your brain receives messages and can result in ringing.

A very rare percentage of people (less than one percent) suffer from “objective tinnitus.” Objective tinnitus is when other people can hear the head noise and is typically a result of turbulent blood flow.  

How is tinnitus treated?

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.

In most cases, there is no specific treatment for tinnitus but will vary on a case-by-case basis and be dependent on the cause. If your otolaryngologist finds a specific cause of your tinnitus, he or she may be able to reduce or eliminate. For instance, if it is just an earplug, removal of the obstruction can actually cure your tinnitus.

Treatment options may require extensive testing including x-rays, balance tests, and laboratory blood work. It is important to understand, though, that most causes cannot be identified.

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.

What can help me cope?

Dealing with the symptoms of tinnitus can be frustrating or distracting. It is important to discover ways of effective coping. Concentration and relaxation exercises may help to control muscle groups and circulation throughout the body, including the ear. Increased relaxation and circulation achieved by these exercises can reduce the intensity of tinnitus in some patients.

Some people find it helpful or soothing to drown out the noise with a competing sound at a constant low level, such as a ticking clock, white noise, or music. These competing noises can help make the tinnitus less noticeable. Commercial tinnitus maskers are devices that help to suppress the noises while you are wearing it. Some people even claim that the tinnitus maskers help for hours after the device is turned off.

Hearing aids may reduce head noise while you are wearing them and can sometimes cause it to temporarily cease. 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.

Specially-created anti-tinnitus CDs have been created to play as soothing background noise to allow you to sleep better.

For long-term coping, you can join a support group to discuss your tinnitus with other people who understand. Some people who suffer from tinnitus complain that subjective tinnitus makes them feel “crazy.” It is important to understand that tinnitus is a real symptom of an actual condition. While there is no real cure for it, there are ways to cope effectively.

Contact Us

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