Noises in the ears or “tinnitus” are very common complaints. According to the American Tinnitus Association, over 50 million Americans struggle with tinnitus, making it one of the most common health conditions in the United States.
Tinnitus has a wide array of causes, a few of which are explained below.
Sensorineural or inner ear type hearing loss, whether it be from the aging process (presbycusis), noise-induced, or from ear/head trauma can cause tinnitus. In this specific type of hearing loss, the hair-like nerve endings in the inner ear are worn down or broken and this damage causes stimulation to the hearing nerve which results in tinnitus.
Obstructions like earwax or a foreign object in the ear canal can cause tinnitus. The middle part of the ear, which is behind your eardrum and contains 3 little ear bones, can become fluid-filled, like an ear infection or there could be an issue with the little ear bones, this also can be a cause of tinnitus.
Some people notice tinnitus that thumps or whooshes in time with their pulse. This is called pulsatile tinnitus. Pulsatile tinnitus could be caused by an issue with the blood vessels around the ear and neck or high blood pressure. Your ear is actually hearing your blood flow. Also, some medications have tinnitus as a side effect.
In cases where you feel a fullness or pressure in your ear which accompanies the tinnitus, you should contact your primary care physician or an ENT (ear, nose and throat specialist, aka otolaryngologist). You could have an obstruction in your outer ear or an issue with your middle ear.
If you are experiencing pulsatile tinnitus, notice sudden or one-sided tinnitus, or have changes in your tinnitus after starting or increasing your medications, it’s important that you contact your physician or ENT to rule out any serious causes of your tinnitus.
In all instances of tinnitus, having your hearing evaluated by a licensed Beltone professional will help determine if your tinnitus could be caused by hearing loss or if you need further follow-up.
Tinnitus treatments can vary depending on the cause. If your tinnitus is caused by a medically treatable condition, once your physician treats the condition, your tinnitus may subside.
If your tinnitus is caused by a sensorineural hearing loss, treatment may include being fit with hearing aids. Hearing aids will bring in the sounds that you are missing, which provides the added benefit of keeping your ear busy, and listening to external sounds, so the tinnitus is less noticeable. The latest Beltone hearing aid technology also allows your Hearing Care Professional to turn on a customized masking sound which will also make your tinnitus less noticeable.
Lastly, living with tinnitus may be difficult for some. Practicing meditation and mindfulness has provided relief for patients. If your tinnitus is affecting your quality of life, please discuss this with your Hearing Care Professional or your physician.