Audiology Consultants of Iowa

Tinnitus: What It Is and What You Can Do About It

When it comes to one's hearing, most people think in terms of whether a person can hear well or not. However, there's much more to the workings of the ears than the issue of hearing loss. One of the hearing conditions that people are not as aware of is tinnitus.

While most people don't know much about it, tinnitus is actually quite common, impacting almost 50 million people in the United States alone, according to the American Tinnitus Association.

Learn more about tinnitus as well as the ways that it can be treated. Then, if you notice or develop symptoms of this ear condition, you can get the audiological help you need as soon as possible.

Understanding Tinnitus

Tinnitus is a condition most commonly associated with a sensation of ringing in the ears. While hearing a ringing sound is the most commonly cited issue with tinnitus, other sounds involved with tinnitus include hissing, buzzing, and clicking.

Causes of Tinnitus

The potential causes of tinnitus include hearing loss, infections in the ear (particularly the inner ear), and blockages that develop in the ears. Tinnitus can also be related to other health conditions like Meniere's disease. However, since the cause of tinnitus can be varied and complex, many people may not be able to determine the cause as the condition can seem to develop out of nowhere.

Generally speaking, chronic tinnitus can be related to repeated exposure to loud noises over the course of a lifetime. But, people can also develop temporary or acute tinnitus, which can occur immediately after attending a loud concert or being exposed to other loud sounds.

Diagnosing Tinnitus

When you go to an audiologist or ear, nose, and throat specialist with complaints that your ears are ringing or buzzing, they'll probably perform a full examination. Your doctor will, of course, take a look inside of your ears. They will also likely check your nasal cavities and throat, as well as your balance. Your doctor may even recommend a series of blood tests.

All of these steps help your doctor determine the cause of your tinnitus issues. The doctor may ask you about how long your ears have been bothering you and if you have been exposed to any loud noises recently or throughout your lifetime.

Treating Tinnitus

Once your doctor has done your workup, they can help you develop a treatment plan for your tinnitus issues. If the cause is a bacterial infection of the ears and/or sinuses, the primary course of treatment will be antibiotics. Should your tinnitus continue on after the infection is resolved, further treatment may be necessary.

For some people, the watch and wait approach to treatment can also work. Tinnitus has been known to resolve itself after a few weeks or months in some cases. In other cases, patients simply get used to the ringing noises and the sounds become background noise that does not disrupt their life.

Unfortunately, some patients are not so lucky. When tinnitus causes disruption in your life, consultation with an audiologist who has specialized training in the management of tinnitus can be helpful.  Specific treatment varies depending on how tinnitus is affecting the individual but often includes education on tinnitus and strategies for reducing the annoyance of tinnitus. 

Masking tinnitus with other sounds is frequently used in the treatment of tinnitus.  Hearing aids can be a great help to people with severe tinnitus. When a person has some hearing loss in addition to tinnitus, hearing aids can help them hear more effectively over the ringing in their ears. Other tinnitus masking options work similar to hearing aids, and play sounds to lessen the annoyance of tinnitus.

If you are experiencing tinnitus symptoms, make an appointment with an audiologist right away to get a diagnosis and a treatment plan.