Tinnitus is a ringing or buzzing noise in the ears. It is a symptom of an underlying condition like age-related hearing loss, ear injury or even a circulatory disorder. About 1 in 5 people experience tinnitus.
While the condition can be quite bothersome, it is not serious and can improve with treatment of the underlying cause. Other treatments can reduce or mask the noise, making it less noticeable.
The symptoms of tinnitus vary, but overall it involves hearing sound when no external sound is present. These phantom noises in the ears range from ringing and buzzing to roaring, clicking and hissing, and vary in pitch from a low roar to a high squeal. They may be present all the time or come and go.
Doctors break tinnitus down into two different kinds: subjective and objective. Subjective tinnitus is the most common type and can only be heard by the sufferer. It is usually caused by ear problems in the outer, middle or inner ear, but can also be caused by a problem with the hearing nerves or the part of the brain that interprets nerve signals. Objective tinnitus is a form of tinnitus that a doctor can hear as well. This type of tinnitus is rare and may be caused by a blood vessel problem, an inner ear bone condition or muscle contractions.
In many cases, the exact cause of a patient's tinnitus is never found, but in others, it appears to be related to age-related hearing loss that begins around age 60, exposure to loud noise like heavy machinery or an iPod, a blockage of earwax that causes hearing loss or irritation of the eardrum or changes in the eardrum like the stiffening of bones in the middle ear a condition that runs in families. Less common causes are Meniere's disease, TMJ, head or neck injuries or acoustic neuroma.
When it comes to treatment, a doctor will usually first try to identify and treat any condition that may be associated with symptoms. Noise suppression like a white noise machine, hearing aids and masking devices may also be used to alleviate symptoms.
For more information about tinnitus or other hearing problems, contact the Central Maine Hearing Center at 207-786-9949 or visit www.cmmc.org/hearing-services-services. Central Maine Hearing Center can help improve your life by improving your hearing and has services for diagnosing and treating ear and hearing disorders in children and adults.