What causes ringing ears or tinnitus?
Many people experience a “ringing in the ears” or other noises in the ears. This condition is known as tinnitus and is characterized by an individual perceiving a sound that others around you do not hear. There are multiple types of tinnitus and perceptions of tinnitus, but the most common is a lingering ringing or buzzing in the ears. There are multiple reasons that someone can experience tinnitus, which varies depending on the type of tinnitus.
What are the types of tinnitus?
Tinnitus can occur in several different forms, depending on the cause.
- Subjective tinnitus – The majority of patients suffering from tinnitus have this form, which is caused by exposure to excessive noise. Subjective tinnitus can be acute (less than 3 months) or subacute (over 3 months), and may be accompanied by hearing loss due to nerve damage in the ears.
- Objective tinnitus – This form of tinnitus is very rare and is characterized by involuntary contractions in the ear, creating a sound that can be picked up by a stethoscope. Often, this type of tinnitus requires surgery.
- Neurological tinnitus – Tinnitus is sometimes caused by neurological disorders, causing dizziness, vertigo, and balance problems. Meniere’s disease is one neurological disorder that is related to this type of tinnitus.
- Somatic tinnitus – Sometimes tinnitus is caused by sensory issues in a patient’s body. In these cases, sensory signals that travel through the body are disrupted and create incorrect signals. This causes tinnitus that is generally only experienced in one ear.
What are some symptoms of tinnitus?
Although the condition is often described as intermittent or continuous “ringing in the ears” it may also be perceived in other ways, including:
- Ringing in the ears
- Buzzing in the ears
- Hissing in the ears
- Roaring in the ears
- Whistling in the ears
- Whooshing in the ears
- Static in the ears
- Crickets in the ears
- Screeching in the ears
There are also different ways to describe the way a noise is perceived by a patient who is suffering from one of the types of tinnitus:
- Total tinnitus – Patient hears a constant or near-constant sound, sometimes overlapping with multiple noises. Volume may fluctuate.
- Pulsatile tinnitus – Patient perceives noise at a pulsing rhythm, often in sync with the patient’s heartbeat.
- Musical tinnitus – Patient perceives singing or music, sometimes in a constant loop. This form of tinnitus is often called musical ear syndrome and is rare.
What are the risk factors for tinnitus?
Some risk factors that may increase the risk of developing one of the forms of tinnitus include:
- Excessive noise exposure:
- Work (loud machinery or other high-noise environments)
- Headphone use
- Gender (males have a higher risk)
- Hearing loss
- Old age
How do ENT doctors diagnose tinnitus?
It is important to consult an expert ear, nose and throat doctor at New York ENT if experiencing any of the above symptoms. Our specialists will consult patients, asking a range of questions about their condition. Questions might include:
- How long have you experienced the noise?
- Does the noise fade in and out or remain constant?
- Have you had any exposure to loud noises or explosives?
- Have you had a recent injury or illness?
Doctors will also conduct a thorough physical exam, including using an otoscope to inspect the inside of the ear. In some cases, laboratory tests or imaging studies may be needed to rule out certain underlying causes
What are treatments for tinnitus?
Tinnitus is treated by addressing any underlying conditions that could be causing the tinnitus. Often, once the underlying condition is treated, the tinnitus resolves itself. In some cases, tinnitus is not caused by another health condition, and patients may undergo therapy to slowly improve tinnitus. Forms of tinnitus therapy include:
- Tinnitus retraining therapy (TRT), also known as tinnitus feedback retraining, is a technique used to attempt to train the auditory system to accept tinnitus noise as natural, rather than disruptive to the patient. This form of therapy can help patients cope with the noises they experience.
- Sound therapy is a way to keep a patient from experiencing tinnitus as much, by using a more pleasant background noise either from speakers or headphones. The noise should be chosen by the patient, and be pleasant for him/her, and can include ocean waves, music, or other low-level sounds.
If you are suffering from tinnitus, the first step towards feeling better is to schedule an evaluation with an experienced ear, nose and throat doctor. Board certified physicians with New York ENT have extensive experience diagnosing and treating a wide variety of ear-related conditions. Fill out the form on this page or call our office at 212-873-6036 to schedule an appointment today.