Ringing in the ear, or tinnitus, is a widespread condition that affects an estimated 50 million Americans. Some people describe it as a hissing, roaring, whooshing or buzzing sound instead of ringing. It may be sporadic or constant, and is a symptom of an underlying condition rather than a disease itself. For most people, the tinnitus is a benign condition to which a person will adjust. In extreme cases, tinnitus can disrupt daily life activities, such as working, reading, and sleeping. There are many factors that can cause tinnitus.

What Are the Causes of Tinnitus?

Tinnitus is categorized as being either nonpulsatile or pulsatile.

Nonpulsatile tinnitus – ringing in the ears not accompanied by any type of rhythm – is the most common type of tinnitus. It can be caused by a variety of conditions including:

  • Presbycusis (age-related hearing loss).

  • Noise exposure.

  • Impacted earwax.

  • Otosclerosis (stiffening of the bones in the middle ear).

  • Meniere’s disease.

  • TMJ disorders.

  • Ototoxic medications.

  • Thyroid conditions.

  • Head or neck trauma.

  • Acoustic neuromas.

People who suffer from pulsatile tinnitus report hearing the sound of their own pulse. It is caused by abnormal blood flow within the arteries of the neck or inside the ear, and is fairly rare. If you experience pulsatile tinnitus, you should see your physician right away. The cure rates for pulsatile tinnitus are quite high once the problem has been identified. Possible causes include:

  • Fluid in the middle ear.

  • Ear infections.

  • High blood pressure.

  • Head and neck tumors.

  • Blocked arteries.

Tinnitus is also classified as being either subjective (heard only by the patient) or objective (ringing can be heard by an impartial observer, such as a doctor). Most cases of tinnitus are subjective in nature.

tinnitus woman

How Is Tinnitus Treated?

Tinnitus can’t be cured, but there are treatments that make it less of a distraction. The approach taken depends on the underlying condition responsible for the ringing in your ears. Sometimes, simple steps like removing built-up earwax or switching to a new medication can markedly decrease symptoms.

Others benefit from noise suppression therapy or masking techniques designed to cover up the ringing noise. White noise machines, fans, air conditioners and humidifiers are all popular, easy to use options.

Hearing aids can often decrease the level (loudness) of the tinnitus, as well as alter the pitch to a more tolerable sound. The hearing aids are stimulating the nerves of the brain and can cause the brain to not “notice” the tinnitus as much.

Tinnitus retraining devices, which rely on patterned tones, are a newer technique that has proven beneficial to many patients.

Contact Big Sky Audiology Clinic at (406) 656-2003 for more information or to Schedule an Appointment

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