If you've ever heard a ringing noise in your ear, you may be experiencing tinnitus. However, whooshing, hissing, whistling and humming sounds can also be an indicator of tinnitus. Tinnitus is common, as one in five Americans experiences it at some point in their life. As with any medical issue that has many different potential causes, there are many different treatment options for tinnitus.
How tinnitus is evaluated
Tinnitus is evaluated through a series of tests that will determine the core source of the issue. Along with your medical history and a physical examination, an audiologist will be able to find the origin of the noise that is causing you trouble. You will be asked questions such as:
- How long has this been going on?
- Is it irregular or constant? Is it worse at certain points of the day?
- Is it a pulsating sensation?
- Which ear is causing the issue? Both?
- How loud is the noise? Is the pitch high or low?
- It the issue extremely bothersome or a little irritating?
- Are there certain conditions that make it worse such as exposure to noise or caffeine intake?
- Does the sound change?
If it is a common problem that persists over a long period of time, your hearing healthcare professional will conduct an audiogram to determine patterns of hearing loss.
Different types of tinnitus treatment
Depending on the results of your hearing evaluation, you will likely get a recommendation for one of the different types of tinnitus treatment. After finding the underlying problem associated with your symptoms, your doctor will be able to provide help to reduce the noise in your ears.
Another treatment option, called tinnitus retraining therapy, will help a patient ignore the background ringing noise in their ear. In this case, a white noise generator is used. This machine creates environmental sounds such as ocean waves, falling rain or other soft, soothing noises. Tinnitus sufferers can also use white noise to help sleep. Consider turning on a fan, humidifier, air conditioner or dehumidifier to help sleep. Individuals with a fish tank can benefit from the constant noise of flowing water.
Tinnitus tests to expect
There are several different tests that can characterize the specific tinnitus that you're experiencing. A hearing care professional may take an X-ray to find any potential structural damage, and if that is the case, you may need an MRI or CT scan for a closer, more detailed look.
A pitch match will help your audiologist determine the frequencies of sounds that are causing you problems. For this exam you will be asked to identify the pitch of your tinnitus as best as possible by comparing it to externally presented tones.
In addition to this test, you may be asked to measure the loudness of the sounds that you are experiencing. The loudness match test is based on decibels, which range from a whisper to a shout. It is much more common for people to experience softer noises, but the sound is often perceived at a louder level than what is actually occurring. A Visual Analog Scale is then administered to determine the actual loudness, because it is unlikely that the noise is as loud as reported. On a scale from zero to 10, you'll be asked to scale the loudness. About 70 percent of patients will report a loudness value of six or higher.
Tinnitus caused by an underlying condition
Sometimes the cause of your tinnitus is a treatable condition. Your doctor may have to remove excess earwax buildup in the ear canal, which can irritate the area and cause slight hearing loss or a ringing noise.
An issue with the blood vessels around the ear can also cause tinnitus. This is most common when someone is hearing a pulsating noise that resembles their heartbeat. In this situation, medication or surgery may be required.
Medications can also cause tinnitus, in which case your hearing healthcare provider will work with your physician to determine if you can stop, reduce or change the medications you are currently taking.
Innovative treatments for tinnitus
Research conducted in 2012 at Adelante Audiology & Communication followed nearly 500 patients for 12 months to test cognitive behavioral treatment that aims to reduce the negative connotation toward the ailment. Researchers exposed patients to exposure techniques, movement, relaxation exercise and mindfulness-based elements. The study proved to be successful for both mild and severe forms of tinnitus.
Types of tinnitus medications
Although drugs cannot cure tinnitus, there are a few that will help suppress the symptoms you are experiencing. Tricyclic antidepressants, like amitriptyline and nortriptyline, are two of the most commonly prescribed medications. If a patient is experiencing severe tinnitus, one of these drugs may be used. However, it's important to know that these medications may come with side effects such as dry mouth, blurry vision and heart issues. Discuss any looming conditions or medications you are currently taking with your audiologist. Niravam and Xanax can also be prescribed, but each of these medications can cause drowsiness and nausea, and they can be habit-forming.
Homeopathy, hypnosis and acupuncture are also thought to suppress tinnitus conditions. Studies have been conducted that show acupuncture can help relieve symptoms of tinnitus, but sufferers should expect to attend 10 to 15 sessions. Homeopathy, which uses plant, mineral and animal material in doses to help relieve ailments, can also be used as a treatment. Some remedies can be used to suppress load roaring noises, echoing, dull humming and other tinnitus symptoms.
- Treatment Types, American Tinnitus Association, http://www.ata.org/for-patients/treatment
- New Effective Treatment for Tinnitus?, Science Daily, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120528180810.htm
- Tinnitus Management, American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, http://www.asha.org/public/hearing/tinnitus-management/
- How Tinnitus is Diagnosed, EHealthMD, http://ehealthmd.com/content/how-tinnitus-diagnosed#axzz2SAjo59Mn
- Top Five Remedies for Tinnitus, Dr. Emily Kane, http://dremilykane.com/2002/05/10/top-five-remedies-for-tinnitus/