What’s that ringing sound?
If you “hear” phantom sound that seems to come from within your head, it’s called tinnitus.
You probably don’t notice it when the TV is on or there’s other background noise. But in bed at night, or in a silent room, you may hear a high-pitched ringing, a hum, or even a low roar.
Tinnitus is most likely a side effect of the gradual hearing loss that occurs naturally with age. Some people don’t consciously hear it. Their brains essentially filter out the noise. But other people are quite aware of it.
Should I see a doctor?
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for true tinnitus.
However, there are strategies and treatments that can provide relief for people who are acutely disturbed by a constant perception of sound. So the question is: How badly does it bother you?
We’ve seen patients who are driven to distraction—disabled even—by persistent tinnitus. While others say: I hear it, but it doesn’t bother me. If it doesn’t bother you, then it’s nothing to worry about. However, come see us if the ringing in your ears causes:
- Depression, or
- Irritability and anxiety
Also, you should see a doctor if the sound is only in one ear, or if it fluctuates or pulses. In those instances there’s likely a separate, underlying medical condition that can be diagnosed and treated.
If you’re uncertain about the seriousness of your condition, by all means, schedule an appointment today.
Can we help you?
Sadly, many patients are abruptly told by doctors that they must “learn to live with it.” This is true to an extent. But we can help you live with it.
First we’ll determine whether or not you truly have incurable tinnitus. If you do, there are many things we can try to relieve your distress. So if the ringing in your ears is causing you concern, please make an appointment today.
Tensor tympani spasms
Tensor Tympani Spasms are a condition which causes "shotgun" or "fluttering" sounds in the ear. The tinnitus may only last for a brief moment, or it can last as long as a few days. Many people who experience Tensor Tympani Spasms assume that these sensations are normal. However, there are treatments which can alleviate these symptoms.
What causes tinnitus?
No one knows exactly what causes tinnitus, or why some people hear it and others don’t.
One plausible theory ties tinnitus to sound receptors in our ears that gradually stop working with age. It suggests the parts of the brain connected to those particular receptors begin to register the void as a constant signal—like the humming of an open electrical circuit.
It’s possible that the brain neurons involved can be “rewired” to serve other functions. Or some people’s brains may naturally suppress the open signal, so that it remains in the subconscious. Either would explain why some people don’t have tinnitus and others do.
In some instances a bad ear infection or TMJ pain can “turn on” tinnitus. The pain draws a person’s attention to the auditory system and unmasks the underlying sound that was there all along. In time, the ringing may again fade from consciousness. Or, once it’s been noticed, a person may never again be able to ignore the sound, like noticing a crooked picture frame on the wall.
Other causes are more obvious
- Some medications (like aspirin) can cause ringing in the ears. Patients also may experience tinnitus when they stop taking certain prescriptions. Either way, a detailed patient history can lead to a diagnosis.
- If tinnitus is only perceived in one ear, that’s a clear indication of a separate medical condition. It’s not common, but ringing in one ear is sometimes an early symptom of a benign brain tumor (called an acoustic neuroma). An MRI can reveal such tumors.
- If the sound fluctuates or pulses (like a heart beat), that’s an indication of a vascular condition that needs to be evaluated. Similarly, if the ringing occurs with certain movements or body positions (like standing up or lying down) the cause is likely related to inadequate blood flow.
What Can Be Done About Tinnitus?
There are several options for tinnitus sufferers.
For many people who are bothered by the continual perception of sound, just understanding that it’s common provides a certain relief. It’s nice to know that you aren’t going crazy, or you don’t have a brain tumor!
But for a handful of people, this is no relief to the distress caused by tinnitus. For these patients, we first suggest some basic strategies:
- Avoid quiet rooms whenever possible
- Create sound-rich environments with fans, music or TVs
- Use a sound machine to fall asleep at night
Distress caused by tinnitus tends to ratchet upwards in a vicious cycle when a person is unable to remove awareness from the sound. Adding external sound to the environment naturally draws attention away from tinnitus and helps a person to remain calm and relaxed.
There are also special types of hearing aids for treating tinnitus. Audiologists call them ear-level devices. The devices use targeted sound therapy to mask tinnitus. Some patients find the devices to be extremely effective. The downside is that the tinnitus returns when the device is removed.
Tinnitus retraining therapy is another option for patients with distress. This type of counseling treatment typically involves sound therapy in conjunction with cognitive behavioral feedback.
The goal of tinnitus retraining therapy is to help patients become desensitized to the sounds they hear. The process often involves accepting the tinnitus as something that is OK and not harmful. This type of therapy can be hugely beneficial to people who are essentially disabled by the ringing in their ears.
Can We Help You?
Sadly, many patients are abruptly told by doctors that they must “learn to live with it.”
This is true to an extent. But we can help you live with it.
First we’ll determine whether or not you truly have incurable tinnitus. If you do, there are many things we can try to relieve your distress.
So if the ringing in your ears is causing you concern, please make an appointment today.