Tinnitus is defined as a noise in your ears or head that arises from an internal source as opposed to one’s external environment. Tinnitus is often referred to as a ‘ringing of the ears’, but it may in fact be almost any type of noise, including buzzing, roaring, or hissing. It can also sound like your heartbeat, called “pulsatile tinnitus”, which is a separate category of tinnitus and thought to arise from the sound of turbulent blood flow in a vessel in your neck or head. Tinnitus can vary in loudness and intensity and may be continuous or intermittent. Tinnitus is believed to often be a symptom of some other condition (like sensorineural hearing loss) but the exact cause of the problem may be difficult to determine. Noise damage, middle ear pathology, head injuries, tumors, medications, narrowing of the blood vessels in the neck, and chronic medical conditions can all lead to or exacerbate tinnitus. Tinnitus sometimes worsens when one consumes excessive sodium, cigarettes, caffeinated beverages, or when one is sleep deprived, anxious, or stressed.
Symptoms of Tinnitus
Tinnitus and its associated symptoms vary from person to person. Not everyone is bothered by their tinnitus, and some people only notice it in a quiet environment, such as when they are trying to go to sleep. Tinnitus is often a symptom of some other condition, which may or may not be apparent, and may lead to fatigue, stress, difficulty with concentration, sleep disturbance, headaches, anxiety, depression, and irritability. Managing these other co-morbid conditions may not cure your tinnitus but can significantly help the problem in some cases.
Treatment for Tinnitus
Currently there is no definitive cure for tinnitus, but there are treatments. Tinnitus remains a challenging and frustrating problem for millions of people. The goal of treatment is to reduce or mitigate the bothersome effect of the tinnitus on the patient as much as possible. Completely eliminating the tinnitus is not realistic in most cases. Once you have had a consultation with an ear specialist such as Dr. Paul Shea, and a hearing test, a thorough evaluation, and possibly other tests such as CT scan or brain MRI performed, your doctor may recommend treatment to address your hearing loss, to mask (cover up) the tinnitus, or may have other recommendations. These may include cognitive behavioral therapy, tinnitus retraining therapy, or biofeedback. Sometimes the tinnitus is related to another condition, such as Meniere’s disease, which can be treated, in turn helping to alleviate the tinnitus. Treatment for pulsatile tinnitus sometimes involves surgery. Treatment is individualized according to the specific situation and varies between patients. There is currently no effective oral medication for tinnitus, and over the counter supplements for tinnitus have not been effective in clinical trials.
Managing and Living with Tinnitus
In many cases, tinnitus is the outcome of another condition that cannot be reversed, such as sensorineural hearing loss. However, you should still take precautions to avoid making it worse, such as using hearing protection to limit your exposure to loud sounds. You should also consider visiting an ear specialist, such as Dr. Paul Shea, to see what options might be open to you to help your tinnitus. Turn down the volume on your devices and focus on improving your mental and overall health. Limit your consumption of alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and sodium, exercise daily, and get as much rest as possible. Try not to focus on your tinnitus and attempt to ignore it as much as possible. Most patients find that over time they become accustomed to their tinnitus to some degree and that is usually becomes less of a problem for them.
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