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What is Tinnitus by Elizabeth Dare

By at December 16, 2012 | 9:06 am | Print

Tinnitus is a persistent sound, heard inside of one or both ears, for which there is no external source.  For some sufferers, it sounds like chirping, while others hear clicking, whistling, hissing, roaring, or ringing.  The sound may be a single tone or multiple tones, and it may remain constant or vary at random.  The sound level may be anywhere from soft to screeching, making it possible for tinnitus to become an extremely disruptive force in a person’s life.

While tinnitus may not be on the forefront of discussion in modern medicine, an estimated 20% of people suffer from some degree of it, including nearly 36 million Americans.  Most sufferers have subjective tinnitus, which is a sound that only the patient is able to hear.  On rare occasion, a person may have objective tinnitus, which may also be heard by a doctor upon examination.  Tinnitus may affect anyone, but it is more commonly found in Caucasian men over the age of 65.

Tinnitus has a wide variety of possible causes, including exposure to loud noises, trauma, a tumor, misalignment of the jaw, excess ear wax, stiff inner ear bones, and age-related hearing issues.  Some medications may also result in the appearance of tinnitus, including certain antibiotics, cancer medications, aspirin (12+ per day), and diuretics.

Tinnitus is typically diagnosed during an audiological exam, during which the patient sits in a soundproof room while wearing earphones, and a variety of tones are played into one ear at a time.  Testing may also require movement of body parts such as the eyes, jaw, and neck.  Further testing, if needed, may include imaging, depending on the suspected underlying cause of the problem.

While there is no known cure for tinnitus, there are several ways to manage the symptoms.  The easiest options to try first include removal of excess ear wax, and changing a person’s medications.  Several electronic options also exist, such as hearing aids and machines which produce noises to counter those originating inside the ear.  The severity of tinnitus may also be reduced with the aid of certain drugs, biofeedback, sound therapy, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) treatment, or electrical stimulation.

A person may also find some relief in minor lifestyle changes, such as avoiding possible irritants, using external noise to mask the sounds, stress management, avoiding stimulants, and reduction of alcohol intake.  The Tinnitus Research Initiative (TRI) has also provided a forum on their website where tinnitus sufferers may log in and discuss all aspects of their condition with others who are fighting the same battle.

There is currently no estimated time-frame for finding a cure.  The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) has received over $5 million in research grants in the past 30 years, and has supported over 100 studies researching the causes and effective treatment of tinnitus.  Other organizations around the world are also conducting studies, including the connection between tinnitus and depression at Loyola University, visual touch and feedback therapy at the University of Auckland, and pink noise therapy at Peking University in China.



American Academy of Otolaryngology,

American Tinnitus Association,

Mayo Clinic,

Tinnitus Research Initiative Discussion Forum,


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