Do you suffer from a constant ringing or buzzing in your ears? That is tinnitus. It’s a common misconception that tinnitus is a condition by itself. It’s actually a symptom of something else, like a circulatory problem, or hearing loss due to age. Luckily, it’s just annoying, and often isn’t a sign of a serious issue. It can get worse with time though, so if it becomes unbearable there are things you or your doctor can do to deal with it.
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is when you hear phantom sounds, even though there isn’t anything actually making noise, and is characterized by:
The sound’s pitch and volume can be low or high, and can occur in one or both ears. It can also be constant, or come and go. Some people are incredibly bothered by it, and others don’t mind. It all varies from person to person. Regardless of your symptoms, the sound you hear will help your doctor determine the problem.
When should I see a doctor?
If you experience tinnitus after having a respiratory infection, if it comes on with no apparent reason, or if you experience hearing loss or dizziness with the tinnitus, you need to see a doctor to make sure that whatever is causing it isn’t serious.
How is it treated?
To treat, your doctor will first need to determine which kind you have. There are two types of tinnitus: subjective, which only you can hear, and objective, which your doctor can hear. Most people have subjective tinnitus, and it can be caused by problems within your ear, problems with auditory nerves, or problems in the auditory pathways of your brain. Objective tinnitus is rarer, and is caused by muscle contractions, blood vessel problems, or a middle ear bone issue.
Once your doctor determines the root cause of the tinnitus, treatment can begin. If the tinnitus is caused by impacted ears, your doctor will remove the earwax. If it’s caused by a blood vessel condition, you may need medication or surgery to correct the tinnitus. Certain prescriptions can also cause tinnitus, so you may simply need to use a different medication.
If it’s not something that can be treated, there are things your doctor can do to help reduce your symptoms: prescriptions, white noise suppression, masking devices, hearing aids, or tinnitus retraining. These things all help you suppress the sound, and in the case of tinnitus retraining, you learn to ignore it entirely.
If you suspect you have tinnitus, set up an appointment with your doctor just to rule out any serious medical trouble.