Tinnitus is a ringing, whooshing or swishing sound that originates inside the ear. It is not harmful, nor is it necessarily a symptom of an illness or disease. However, it can become frustrating and disturbing over time. It may come from one or both ears.
What causes tinnitus?
Most people experience tinnitus at some point in their lives, especially after listening to loud music for an extended period of time. This causes the sensation of ringing in the ears. Certain medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories like aspirin, can also cause brief tinnitus.
Chronic tinnitus is when this ringing sensation occurs for longer than 6 months at a time. It can be caused by a range of outside factors. Most people who experience it have some degree of hearing loss, often caused by being persistently exposed to loud noises. Other causes include impacted earwax, damaged nerves in the ear, changes in the bones of the middle ear or infections in the middle ear. Any type of inner ear cell damage can cause tinnitus. It can also be a symptom of Meniere’s disease, which affects the balance mechanism in the inner ear.
Less often, chronic tinnitus can involve an objective ringing sound rather than a subjective one. Objective tinnitus involves a sound that a doctor can also hear. This is caused by blood vessel issues, usually related to aging, which cause the blood to make a whooshing sound as it passes through your arteries. This is called pulsatile tinnitus.
Tinnitus is usually not a sign of any serious underlying medical issue, nor is it a sign of increasing deafness.
How do you get rid of tinnitus?
Getting rid of tinnitus is only possible when you treat the underlying health condition. For example, if a medication is causing or exacerbating the noise, switching to a different medication can solve the tinnitus issue entirely. Treating an underlying vascular condition can also help, as well as removing impacted earwax.
In short, discovering the underlying issue is the first step to getting rid of tinnitus for good. Other solutions involve masking the noise or learning to cope with it over time.
What are the treatments?
There are a variety of treatments for alleviating the burden caused by tinnitus. Note that there is no cure for tinnitus itself unless the underlying issue is able to be reversed. However, these treatments can help ease the symptoms and reduce the sound.
Firstly, since tinnitus is often linked to slight hearing loss, getting a hearing aid to augment external noise can provide relief from the internal ringing sound.
Secondly, you can use a white noise device to mask the sound of tinnitus. This usually involves a tabletop device or headphones that play generic ambient noises. This is referred to as acoustic or sound therapy.
Other treatment options include lifestyle changes that benefit overall health, thereby making tinnitus easier to deal with and sometimes less severe. This can involve changes in diet or exercise.
Finally, since tinnitus can often cause psychological issues such as depression or anxiety due to the constant internal noise, some treatments involve developing a healthier and more positive emotional response. This may involve counseling, stress reduction or relaxation therapy. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT) also involves habituating yourself to the sound.
How can an ENT doctor help?
Seeing an ear, nose and throat doctor is the first step to take if you develop chronic tinnitus. As a health provider specializing in that area of the body, they’re best suited to determining what the underlying cause may be and whether there’s anything you can do to treat the root issue.
A doctor will ask you to describe the details about your particular case of tinnitus, including the volume of the sound and whether it’s constant or intermittent. They’ll go over your medical history as well as your past exposure to noise and other possible causes for hearing loss.