Tinnitus is when you experience a ringing or other noises in one or both ears. It is quite common and affects 15-20% of the general population.
Tinnitus is most often described as a “ringing”, but it can be described as a buzzing, roaring, clicking, hissing or humming sound. It may involve one or both ears and can come and go or be constant. “Pulsatile tinnitus” is when there is a rhythmic pulsing in synchronization to your heartbeat.
Common causes of tinnitus include: Hearing loss, ear infections, ear canal blockage (most commonly from wax buildup), head & neck injuries, and medications.
Less common causes include: Meniere’s disease, eustachian tube dysfunction, otosclerosis (stiffening of the inner ear bones), muscle spasms in the inner ear, TMJ disorders, acoustic neuroma (a benign tumor that develops on a cranial nerve) high blood pressure or other disorders.
Risk Factors
There are a variety of factors that can contribute to the development of Tinnitus, these include:
  • Loud noise exposure
  • Age
  • Sex (men are more likely than women to experience tinnitus)
  • Tobacco and alcohol use
  • Certain health problems including: obesity, high blood pressure, and a history of head/neck injury
Tinnitus can be very disturbing and lead to a significant decrease in your quality of life and end up contributing to insomnia, fatigue, difficulties with concentration and memory, depression, anxiety, and headaches.
As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some simple things you can do to help prevent Tinnitus.
  • Wear hearing protection
  • Turn down the volume
  • Take care of your cardiovascular health; make sure your blood pressure is well controlled
  • Limit alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Avoid nicotine products
The diagnosis is easy; it is made based on the history alone. Identifying the cause, on the other hand, is much more difficult and will involve getting a good history, performing a focused exam, and may include some special tests such as an audiogram (hearing exam).
Causes of Tinnitus can be identified to help me determine the most effective treatment. Common causes of Tinnitus are:
  • Clicking sounds: Suggests muscle contractions may be the cause.
  • Pulsing sounds: Suggests high blood pressure may be the cause.
  • Low-pitched ringing: Suggests a blockage in the ear canal or canals may be the cause. Other possibilities include Meniere’s disease or otosclerosis.
  • High-pitched ringing: This is the most common. Usually due to noise exposure, hearing loss, or medications. Rarely, an acoustic neuroma may cause a high-pitched sound in one ear (an acoustic neuroma is a benign tumor that grows on the sheath of a cranial nerve).
To treat tinnitus, I simply address the cause found. That may include the following:
  • Earwax removal
  • Blood pressure treatment
  • Hearing aids
  • Medication changes
  • Noise suppression and/or counseling (to deal with its effects)
If you are experiencing tinnitus and want an evaluation, please call Dr. Guy at (707) 938-1255 to schedule an appointment.
The Mayo Clinic website was used as a major resource for this article.