Tinnitus (Abnormal Sensation of Sound)
What is tinnitus?
Tinnitus is an abnormal sensation of sound when there is no actual physical cause. The most common causes of hearing loss and tinnitus in adults are noise exposure and age-related loss (presbycusis). In some cases, tinnitus can occur without significant hearing loss, due to head injury or other factors. Tinnitus can arise from neck and jaw muscle tension and occasionally from side effects of certain medications. The unrelenting noise can cause the individual significant mental anguish. The severity of tinnitus often decreases over time but in some cases may remain permanently bothersome.
How is tinnitus evaluated?
Patients with tinnitus undergo a full ear, nose and throat evaluation in addition to testing such as an audiogram. Further studies such as MRI or CT scan may be ordered in certain cases.
What treatment is available?
Since the majority patients with tinnitus have hearing loss as the cause, the most effective treatment for the tinnitus is to reduce or eliminate the hearing loss. In some cases, surgery can restore hearing. In most cases, however, the hearing loss is not surgically correctable, so a hearing aid is the most effective treatment. Most patients with tinnitus tend to find the condition more bothersome in a very quiet situation such as when trying to fall asleep. The trick is to not be in a silent environment. “Masking” is the technique of covering up tinnitus with background noise (e.g. TV, radio, fan, sound machine, etc.) to make it less apparent and is often quite effective. There are numerous other treatments that are often offered by various facilities, but unfortunately, they are not usually of much help.