Tinnitus: the Noise of Silence

Tinnitus(ringing in the ear) is the perception of noise when there is no external cause.  It may sound like humming, hissing, chirping, ringing, or whooshing.  It is usually a constant noise, but may be pulsatile, matching the rhythm of your heart beat.  Tinnitus may affect one or both ears.

Tinnitus may be temporary, frequently occurring after exposure to loud noise, such as a concert or sitting too close to the speakers at a wedding.  It may also be caused by an ear infection or wax(cerumen) accumulation in the ears.  Unfortunately, for most people who suffer with tinnitus, it is chronic, and may be a significant quality of life issue.

Tinnitus can occur at any age, but is more common with advancing age, and is usually associated with hearing loss, especially in the higher frequencies.  It is thought that tinnitus arises in the part of the brain responsible for hearing, with ‘over activity’ of neurons due to reduced input from the inner ear.  Certain medications may contribute to tinnitus, including aspirin and other anti-inflammatory drugs, and some chemotheraputic agents.  Discontinuing the medication usually improves the condition.

Anyone with tinnitus should be evaluated by an otolaryngologist(ear, nose and throat doctor) and undergo audiologic evaluation.  In rare cases, tinnitus may be caused by tumor arising from the auditory nerve, and an MRI may necessary to exclude this possibility.

In most cases, there is no cause found for the tinnitus, other than hearing loss.  Use of a hearing aid often reduces the sensation of tinnitus.  The presence of background noise often masks the tinnitus.  For those with difficulty sleeping, keeping the radio on low volume or using a white noise machine(or phone app) is helpful.  While there is no ‘cure’ for tinnitus, some experience improvement by taking supplements such as gingko biloba or lipoflavinoids.  Researchers are currently investigating the use of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation(rTMS) as a treatment for tinnitus.

If you have tinnitus, don’t suffer in silence!  Make an appointment with one of our doctors at Great Neck ENT.

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