ti-NIGHT’-us or TIN’-i-tus – both pronunciations are correct. It means “to tinkle or to ring.” Tinnitus refers to perceived head noise that can’t be heard externally. It can be described as hissing, roaring, chirping, whistling, or clicking.
Tinnitus can be constant or intermittent; in one ear or both; single, multi-toned, or even melodic. The volume can range from barely perceivable to shattering.
Exposure to loud noise is by far the most likely cause of tinnitus. Sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus, usually noise-induced, is why 90% of those with tinnitus seek medical treatment.
Your physician should be consulted as tinnitus may be a symptom of another health problem.
Tinnitus-generating pathologies include middle ear disease and balance disorders such as Meniéres disease.
Other culprits that can cause or exacerbate tinnitus are oto (ear) toxic drugs, stress, fatigue, hypertension, wax build-up in canals, ear and sinus infections, TMJ, heart disease, tumors in the auditory system, and thyroid disorders, as well as head and neck traumas or presbycuses (hearing loss due to aging). Over the counter medications can also elicit tinnitus. Caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, aspirin, antihistamines and some herbs may also intensify it.
Tinnitus may occur with normal hearing when the hearing hair cells become over-stimulated by medication, noise, or illness. This stimulus or over excitation doesn’t turn off and is perceived as head noise by the individual.
According to research, of those patients with both tinnitus and hearing loss, 92% get relief from the tinnitus by compliantly wearing hearing aids.
With hearing loss, the hearing hair cells are under stimulated by sounds in the pitch range of the hearing loss, and don’t get the ‘exercise’ they need.
They eventually lose the ability to transmit the sounds of speech accurately. This neural process of audible sound, through hearing aids, masks tinnitus by exercising the neural hearing hair cells and stimulating the brain.
Sound machines for sleeping can softly mask the tinnitus. White noise may also provide some relief.
In America alone, 50 million people have ringing in the ears. Twelve million seek treatment and 2.5 million find it disruptive enough to be disabling.
Although there remains no cure, tinnitus can be overcome. There are several treatments that work differently by individual.
For an overview of the latest treatments, contact the American Tinnitus Association – www.ata.org – or call 800-634-8978.